Eight women in glittering gowns stand in a row, arms upraised.
The cast of Women of Soul at Mercury Theater Chicago Credit: Brett Beiner Photography

If you’re looking for respite from the slush-bound, gawdawful doldrums of February (and who isn’t?), Mercury Theater Chicago offers a scorching-good respite in Women of Soul. Rebooting the show they debuted in 2018 at Black Ensemble Theater, writer/director Daryl D. Brooks and musical director Robert Reddrick don’t shy away from taking on the tunes that are indelibly associated with artists who only need one name: Aretha. Mariah. Dionne. Whitney. Tina. Janis. 

As in 2018, the revue stumbles when the music stops—with almost two dozen songs packed into roughly two hours, Brooks’s exposition reduces the lives of the many women it honors to stilted bullet points. But when the cast is left to simply sing, Women of Soul shines. 

Women of Soul
Through 3/6: Wed-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 2 and 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM, Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport, 773-360-7365, mercurytheaterchicago, $35-$80.

The highlights are many: Cynthia Carter honors Big Mama Thornton with “Hound Dog,” delivering the defiant, gritty sensuality that Elvis appropriated. Robin DaSilva delivers a yearning power ballad in her version of Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Aeriel Williams brings explosive, percussive energy to Janet Jackson’s “Control.” In Rick James’s “Fire and Desire,” Dwight Neal and Hannah Efsits celebrate freakiness, unabashed. And in “Everlasting Love,” Rhonda Preston embraces the upbeat optimism that defines the tune. Women of Soul also looks great, thanks in no small part to costume designer Rueben Echoles’s eye-popping array of sparkling evening gowns. The music of Women of Soul is a combination of the revolutionary and the comforting. Either way, it sounds great. And when Jerica Exum unleashes her upper register on “Vision of Love,” it’s clear that she’s got a range not unlike Mariah’s own.