Chicago Theater Review: MEN OF SOUL (Black Ensemble Theater)

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: MEN OF SOUL (Black Ensemble Theater)

by Lawrence Bommer on July 13, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


A dozen shows in one and a showcase of solos to beat any band, Black Ensemble Theater’s summer blockbuster Men of Soul pays kickass tribute to the greatest soul singers–black and white–of all time. Sensational singing, coming so close to the original vocalists as to be scary-accurate, is the payoff here for over two hours of magnificent memory-making.


B.E.T. associate director Daryl D. Brooks has assembled a powerhouse, bi-racial and bi-gender cast of eleven to bring these soulmates to complete life and art. Along the way Brooks’ multi-narrated text testifies to the struggles the singers faced–against drugs (Joe Cocker) or depression (Billy Joel), segregation (Ray Charles), venal music producers (Prince), and bad self-images (Freddie Jackson). Sometimes moving with the times meant changing their styles (Peabo Bryson and Tom Jones) or, like James Ingrams, giving up gospel to find soul. The result, perfectly shaped by music director Robert Reddrick, is the same–hit renderings that put us present at the creation and, given the audience response, also at the galvanic recollections triggered by every singing souvenir on the busy, massive B.E.T. stage.


Performed on a strangely sandy stage, each soul star–I left out Billy Ocean, James Brown, Lionel Ritchie, Luther Vandross and the still-splendid Bill Withers–finds his living equivalent here (though their parts aren’t credited in the program or publicity). Just mentioning the memorable numbers gives a sense of the scope of this anthology salute–“Benny and the Jets,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Endless Love,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “You Should Be Mine,” “Purple Rain,” “Stop To Love,”  “One Hundred Ways,” “Feel the Fire,” “On The Wings of Love,” “Caribbean Queen,” “If You Think You’re Lonely Now,” “Night Time Is The Right Time.” (The women–Dawn Bless, Rhonda Preston, and Cherise Thomas–also get their second act spotlight.) It’s a very generous tour-de-force, as galvanic in its dances as its solos, always repaying the dues of these individually and collectively overpowering supersingers. Just as was said about Withers, they delivered “the soundtrack of people’s lives.” Reprising their riches is the best reward a hot theater can offer a joyous audience.


photos by Danny Nicholas


Men of Soul
Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center
4450 N. Clark Street
Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 3
ends on August 30, 2015
for tickets, call 773.769.4451 or visit Ticketmaster

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

Leave a Comment