One Name Only A Different Kind of Reality Show Review - Musical Theater Gets 'Reality' Check

L to R: Deborah Spencer, Candace C. Edwards, Jerika Exum, and A'rese Emokpae

America has talent, and it’s epicenter happens to be Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center in Chicago's Uptown.

Deborah Spencer

Black Ensemble Theater debuts an outstanding musical  event with One Name Only: A Different Kind of Reality Show written and directed by ensemble member Rueben Escholes. One Name Only is equal parts concert and theater, with spectacular performances on both fronts, and succeeds both in showcasing the talents of the performers as well as honoring some of the great soul singers of our time, all in an immersive and engaging environment that will literally bring you out of your chair.

One Name Only Cast

The narrative for One Name Only follows the arc of an eponymously named soul-themed reality talent show from auditions to the top rated (audience selected) final winner of a huge recording contract and cash prize. Each of the final eight contestants is hungry to be the winner, from the sweet and soulful southern girl trying to make it in the big city, to the beaten down single mother risking it all to support her daughter, to the fading starlet seeking to rejuvenate her career. The back story of each of the finalists had a supporting cast with their own scenes, adding depth to the characters and leaving the audience legitimately rooting for their favorite to win. The dramatic elements of One Name Only are surprisingly rich given the highly superficial veneer of typical reality shows.

Jessica Moore, Ninah Snipes, Lisa Beasley, and Ta-Tynisa Wilson

The major focus of One Name Only is the spectacular soundtrack honoring female soul singers including Aretha, Patti, Whitney, Beyonce, and more. The band, backed by Musical Director Robert Reddrick on drums, was a powerhouse throughout the performance. Deftly shifting from early funk laden soul to the more modern hip-hop laced funk, the band had many opportunities to stand out during the musical numbers. That was, of course, until one of the beautiful and talented contestants began singing.

Ta-Tynisa Wilson

Each of the cast had phenomenal performances, and with several rounds of competition there were several opportunities to hear each singer’s own style and learn their story. They sang well solo, they blended well in ensembles (some mike mixes excepted), and usually had choreography, great hair, and slinky dresses. Some outstanding moments included Candace C. Edwards as fading starlet Marilyn, flooring the ladies with Chaka Khan’s Through The Wire. Other outstanding performances included Dawn Bless as guest judge Patti LaBelle doing a ridiculously good rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and Katrina V. Miller as guest judge Gladys Knight hitting a pitch perfect simile of I’ve Got To Use My Imagination. Special mention to Lisa Beasley, Deborah Spencer, and A’rese Emokpae, who took each song they sang and performed it with a sincere balance of the original artist and their own style.

One Name Only Ensemble

In a small way, Escholes’ One Name Only subverts the reality genre while still honoring it. Cast members lament the use of auto tune and samplers, then use ratings as an excuse to keep two girls on the show even though they fought on camera. The show is vapid and cheesy, but the characters are rich and deep, making the audience invested even though it sometimes feels like watching a train wreck. I compliment that this atmosphere was so deliberately and subtly done, which made the music that much more outstanding and the characters that much more relatable. You legitimately want them to win.

One Name Only Ensemble

With a different winner each night, a stupendous soundtrack, and an amazing cast, One Name Only: A Different Kind Of Reality Show is a winner for the Black Ensemble Theater. One Name Only is playing through November 11 at the brand new Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center in north Uptown on Clark Street. For tickets and show times, visit or call 773-769-4451



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