You don’t have to die to go to musical heaven. You can go whenever Jackie Taylor revives her 1995 hit, a strut-your-stuff tribute to the singers and girl and guy groups of the 1950s who pioneered rock ‘n’ roll with doo-wop. Black Ensemble Theater’s brilliant band and combustible ensemble, Thomas Washington’s awesome arrangements, and Jimmy Tillman’s unimprovable direction jubilantly bring to life the greatest hits of the Mills Brothers, Platters, Moonglows, Chantels, Shirelles, Heartbeats, and Skyliners, with special emphasis on Chicago guy groups like the El Dorados and the Flamingos that struck gold. In an ensemble where every singer is a star you can savor Vince Harris’s smooth-as-silk Jackie Wilson, Ardria Pittman’s “Jim Dandy” LaVern Baker, Phyllis Overstreet’s heartbreaking Ruth Brown, Rhonda Preston’s uncanny Dinah Washington, and Kehinde Hart’s bad-boy Frankie Lymon. As in most Black Ensemble Theater retrospectives, the songs can seem a guilty pleasure because Taylor throws in so many tales of how black artists were ripped off by white recording labels. But happily the final effect is more gratitude than guilt as we get to hear the originals, rather than the familiar covers, of over 30 treasures like “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” “Sha-Boom,” “Mr. Lee,” “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” and “Only You.” There’s a reason Doo Wop Shoo Bop itself remains a hit: you couldn’t ask for a more generous show–the accuracy of the re-creations is topped only by the conviction of the performances. Black Ensemble Theater, Uptown Center Hull House, 4520 N. Beacon, 773-769-4451. Through January 19: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $32.50.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ken Simmons.