Chocolate Diva, at Some Like It Black. Earth to Kelli Rich: when you’re singing to an audience of 20 in a space no bigger than a rich man’s bedroom, you don’t need Soldier Field’s amplification system.
Rich’s one-woman tribute to five pioneering African-American singers–Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, and Dinah Washington–must be the loudest evening Chicago theater has ever seen. Amplified to painful, distorted levels, Rich’s already powerful voice turns 90 minutes of song into aural torture. And for all the noise, she offers precious little insight into her subjects. Though she scurries backstage to change into an entirely new costume for each singer–arriving late for every one of her entrances–she does almost nothing to distinguish these songsters. Her Billie Holiday has a distinctive lilt, but the other four belt interchangeably, saying little between songs except “Here we go now!” and “All right!”
Biographical information not half as deep as even the most rudimentary liner notes is provided in voice-over during the lengthy costume changes. And the workmanlike jazz trio backing Rich have apparently never learned the art of vamping till ready; more than once they let her make a late entrance in deathly silence. Hovering between concert and cabaret, Chocolate Diva never coheres into a meaningful whole. Hardly worth the hearing loss.