Directed by Rueben D. Echoles
At Black Ensemble Theater
Fun and energetic musical tells an often overlooked story
Jackie Taylor’s Black Ensemble Theater has put on another worthy musical. This time it is the aptly titled The Marvelous Marvelettes, which is about the namesake Motown singing group. It is a bio-musical giving a glimpse into the life and careers of The Marvelettes and its members over the years. It brings life to a story sadly forgotten by many about the group that put Motown on the map with its first million-record hit “Please Mr. Postman.”
The production begins in the present at a busy airport. Two of The Marvelettes’ former members, Juanita and Katherine (played by Rhonda Preston and Deanna Reed-Foster respectively), have met up for some lunch before catching their flights. With a friendly, conversational warmness the two begin to reminisce about their time in The Marvelettes and the fate of the other members. It is a welcoming story-telling technique that brings you right into their lives and the interaction between the two talented actresses is fun to watch.
The story begins with the group auditioning for the infamous Berry Gordy (Robert N. Issac) and his Motown associates, Mr. Thomas (Tamarus Harvell) and Brian Holland (Daniel Phillips). Gordy is impressed and signs them immediately to the standard Motown contract, which the musical does not shy away from displaying just how unfair that was to the artists. The production should be commended for not sanitizing the role of such an influential yet truly corrupt figure in the history of music.
The story progresses on through the group’s fame and struggles. The dialogue is often stale and flat, but that is not really the point of this musical. The lively and energetic performances of Motown hits are the reason to see this show, and it does not disappoint. The cast is full of incredibly talented singers, notably throughout by Melanie McCullough who plays the lead Gladys. The energy is contagious and the audience is often clapping along with the hits. It is a very interactive show.
Most of the songs performed are, of course, hits by The Marvelettes. It begins with the aforementioned “Please Mr. Postman” and then continues on with others such as “Playboy” and “Beachwood 4-5789.” But the show ventures out and brings in a few other Motown hits to join the fun. Among these Daniel Phillips, who makes a later appearance as Jimmy Ruffin, gives an exceptional performance of “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.”
The Marvelous Marvelettes is a well directed (by Rueben Echoles) and performed musical. The story is written decent enough to interweave the spirited songs that carry the show and everyone goes to see. The music is also well done and does not drown out the singer’s voices. The vocal performances are all top-notch and full of Black Ensemble Theater’s characteristic energy. It is a show for anyone that enjoys lively music and a must-see for fans of Motown.
Date reviewed: July 20, 2014
For more information check out The Marvelous Marvelettes page at theatreinchicago.com
At Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640, call 773-769-4451, blackensembletheater.org, tickets $65 for Adults $58.50 for Seniors/Groups, Friday 8pm, Saturday at 3 & 8 pm, /Sunday 3pm, running time is 1 hour 50 minutes with intermission, through September 7, 2014