MUSIC’S MANY BRIDGES
It’s a proven power at the Black Ensemble Theater: No disease is so deadly, no crisis so catastrophic that a song can’t cure it within twenty bars. Add 20 more songs that bridge the generation gap, as happens in B.E.T.’s generous new offering, From Doo Wop to Hip Hop, and happiness becomes a virtual contagion.
A rewrite of the B.E.T.’s hit Doo Wop Shoo Bop, the musical miracles delivered every fifteen minutes transpire in the upscale neighborhood of Unison Hills, an integrated enclave where dreamers and veterans of the music industry become cross-generational contributors in the pursuit of harmony, musical and otherwise. Despite the occasional flare-up of bragging rights and gentle trash talk, inevitably they reconcile their diverse styles in marvelous medleys melding and mixing hip and hop, bee bop and doo wop. David Ferguson’s set design exposes a façade of adjoining doors and windows (with stoops for sitting), suggesting a mix of Avenue Q, Street Scene, and an Edward Hopper cityscape.
Besides the merest mention of drugs, the generic problems posed and swiftly solved in this feel-good script by artistic director Jackie Taylor and associate director Rueben Echoles never threaten the body politic. These involve, among other comfortable conflicts: An overly protective music-manager brother who doesn’t want his singer sister to fall in love with a rising rapper (who is also the boy next door); a lovesick postman pining for an ambitious diva; an interracial couple still on their own shakedown cruise; and an offstage shooting that very briefly threatens to disturb the peace. Throughout, the cranky byplay exchanged by a former doo wop quartet (Dwight Neal, Matthew Payne, David Simmons and Monty Montgomery), now cantankerous neighbors, is as fun as it’s familiar.
Vintage numbers mix with classics like “The Great Pretender,” and “16 Candles.” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” is scorchingly crooned by John Keating and Christopher B. Straw tears the stuffing out of “Hurt.”
As always at B.E.T., the music is the draw here, wonderfully shaped by Robert Reddrick and played to perfection by his smoking band and a terrifically talented ensemble; the script provides sweet support but nothing more. The most magic comes from group rousers, like a first act cross-over contest between the rappers and the crooners. The second act block party jam is a joyous fête that will persist in your memories for all the right reasons. Unison Hills earns its name as it wins out hearts.
From Doo Wop to Hip Hop
Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago
scheduled to end on April 14, 2013
for tickets, call 773-769-4451
or visit www.blackensemble.org
for info on this and other Chicago Theater,