REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

Sounds So Sweet

Written & Directed by Rueben EcholesSSSweet

Music Direction by Robert Redderick

At the Black Ensemble Theatre, Chicago

Weak story dilutes terrific songs in new musical.

The creatives at the Black Ensemble Theatre are experimenting with various formats besides their signature bio-musicals that have been a popular formula for years. Earlier this season, they mounted  The Trial of Moses Fleetwood Walker, a well done courtroom drama with only a touch of musical underscoring.  Now Associate Director Rueben Echoles has written and directed a world premiere new musical, Sounds So Sweet. This valiant attempt of a new musical is a mixed bag with terrific songs paying tribute to girl groups from the 1950’s to the present. This musical journey includes tunes from Destiny’s Child, En Vogue, The Chiffons, The Shirelles, The Supremes and the Andrews Sisters, The songs were amazingly well sung with outstanding arrangements by Robert Reddrick. The music was the highlight of this new musical.


Unfortunately, Sounds So Sweet plays at almost 2 hours, 40 minutes with a razor-thin story about the Harris family returning to Mississippi upon the death of the matriarch, Grandstine (Yahdina U-Deen). The inter-generational Harris clan brings all their foibles, arguments, old feuds with them as Gransstine’s daughters, their children and their son all remember the inspiration she instilled in each. Through flashbacks and a few startling moments, we enjoy the variety of songs that depict the evolution of pop girl groups.


The cliche-filled story contains wordy speeches, arguments and improbable situations. I appreciate the attempt to write a  celebratory tribute to a matriarch who inspired her siblings, but this story need a trim, and it needs to be tighten as it played as a tad under rehearsed with too many silent gaps and flubbed lines. It also tried to include too many subplots such as the son, Michael (Mark JP Hood) surprising the family with a white fiance and the middle-aged  Marcia (Dawn Bess) flirting with an old ‘friend’ Robert Clarkson (Casey Hayes), a middle-aged white ‘good-old-boy.’ This second plot twist surly needs to be expanded as it now plays as improbable. Rhonda Preston and Dawn Bless anchor this talented cast.


This musical is long on family melodrama that plays with too many log gaps between songs. We grow impatient to hear more of the show’s songbook. This is a valiant attempt to write full musical but it needs some judicious cuts and trims that will highlight the families passion for girl groups . I’d expand the “going to heaven”  final concert that Grandstine strongly demanded upon her passing. This sweet show does contain the style used to great effect by the Black Ensemble: hope, love, and tributes to musical from the black groups. Sounds So Sweet has  fine ambitions and, over time, could emerge as a terrific show. Let is more sure applies here. I appreciate the Black Ensemble’s expanding their artistic variety. They always mount high-energy shows.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

At Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark, Chicago, IL,call 773-769-4451,, tickets $55 -$65 (with 10% discount for students/seniors/groups), Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through May 31, 2015