Chicago Viewpoints Ensemble, at Turn Around Theatre.
In a long line of fine Black Ensemble musical revues that reclaim African American achievements, this one shines. Jackie Taylor’s heartfelt, roof-raising tribute celebrates not only black doo-wop groups and singers of the 1950s but the underreported progress in civil rights during the Eisenhower era and the comparative innocence of a time when singing groups, not gangs, competed for the big money, harmonizing so sweetly it hurt.
Lavern Baker, whose “Jim Dandy” is magnificently rekindled by Randee Shine, was one of many black crooners whose work was covered by white-bread performers like Georgia Gibbs and Pat Boone. Though Ruth Brown’s success helped build Atlantic Records–a fact powerfully recalled in Phyliss Overstreet’s “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean”–she was cheated out of her royalties and gave up fame to raise her kids. Dinah Washington (thrillingly captured by Kelli Rich) persevered, keeping her sound pure no matter who stole it. Sadly, only one girl group, the Chantels, has been re-created here–but that’s because there were too few of them in the first place.
Stunning as the soloists are, the big draw in Doo Wop Shoo Bop are the male groups’ awesome reproductions, several of them vintage Chicago exports. Despite overmiking, the El Dorados’ “Crazy Little Mama,” the Mills Brothers’ “Paper Moon,” and the Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Nite” are delivered so authentically you think the performers are lip-synching to the original recordings. Vince Harris was especially notable for his rubber-limbed re-creation of Jackie Wilson, wowing the house into jubilation.
And as always, Jimmy Tillman’s musical direction is the next best thing to being at the original recording sessions.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Roger Lewin – Jennifer Girard Studio.