Credit: Alan Davis

Among the staff at Uptown’s Black Ensemble Theater, company founder and CEO
Jackie Taylor is colloquially referred to as “the Queen.” I wonder if that
makes associate director Rueben D. Echoles—whose influence and directorial
interpretation of the jukebox biomusical is recognizable up and down BE’s
roster of original plays—a duke. For better and worse, as writer and
director, Echoles’s latest rundown of a diva’s discography exhibits all the
cogs audiences have come to expect in BE’s well-oiled machine.

These include (a) at least two pair of heels being kicked off during
paint-peeling, goosebump-triggering renditions of hits like “Lady
Marmalade” and “On My Own;” (b) gaudy bass and cymbal-brush underscoring
during every instance of domestic violence or family tension; (c) healthy
doses of gospel, both religious and secular, throughout; and (d)
informative chronological tidbits presented in no particular order. As a
senior LaBelle narrating her journey from 60s girl-group frontrunner to
disco icon to legacy diva, Dawn Bless gives a larger-than-life performance
that taps into LaBelle’s electric stage presence and mannerisms without
sacrificing her own personable and affable stage presence. Likewise, as a
young Patti, Cherise Thomas showcases extraordinary chops and the spirit of
a master who knows her value in a studio—even if the rest of the world is
just catching up.

The way in which A New Attitude blazes through Behind the Music-style milestones makes LaBelle’s unique career
journey look almost indiscernible from that of just about every other diva
BE has covered, but as a pastiche of a legend, there’s no denying how hot
this revue burns.   v