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THEATER REVIEW The Message Is In The Music
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2009-11-11

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Playwright: Jackie Taylor. At: Black Ensemble Theater at the Beacon Street Hull House, 4520 N. Beacon. Phone: 773-769-4451; $45. Open run.

The message in the title of this latest musical revue from Black Ensemble Theater is that Rick Stone, the charismatic performer we recall for his powerhouse depiction of bluesman Howlin' Wolf in 2003, is playing the non-denominational Lord identified in this show as "He." And if that's not enough to warrant a call to the ticket office, how about a score that includes covers of songs written and/or recorded by artists ranging from Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder to Paul Simon and Elvis Presley, where even the band dances when the angels sing the disco-classic "I Feel Love?"

"In my house," declares the almighty Him, "everybody comes to the party."

Playgoers unfamiliar with the BET aesthetic may be understandably puzzled. For over three decades, the little company that Jackie Taylor built has been attracting national attention for its homages to pop-music icons often forgotten nowadays. And if that makes it a purveyor of "jukebox musicals," then tell me where you'll find a jukebox with both Paul McCartney's "Let It Be" and the Isley Brothers' "Fight the Power" on its playlist.

The plot is as simple as it is timeless: Lucifer wants to ( yawn ) destroy the universe, and to that end, has promoted war, prejudice and general discord throughout the earth. Existential questions raised by this goal are dismissed as casually as the theologically muddy introduction of a She-consort for our heavenly patriarch, along with a mixed-blood—mortal and divine—executive assistant called Trinity. ( Christians can substitute their own titles for these characters, if they wish. ) Tactics still demand that the devil's entourage be turned toward the righteous path, but given the secular humanitarian leanings of its counselors, is it any wonder that compassion and forgiveness triumphs over selfish nihilism?

The day's victory is accomplished by an ensemble delivering rock-solid vocals—in particular, Trinity P. Murdock, whose namesake's mid-show rendition of "Going In Circles" will wring your heart like a night in Gethsemane—rendered full-bodied by Robert Reddrick's eight-piece orchestra, featuring a brass section that Gabriel himself might envy, along with some catchy hoofing, deftly choreographed by Rueben Echoles. Running through the end of 2009 ( if not longer ) , The Message Is In The Music makes joyful noise to affirm those values we all share as we welcome in the second decade of the 21st century.

Correction

The information for last week's review of Thoroughly Modern Millie contained incorrect information. The playwrights are Jeanine Tesori, Dick Scanlan and Richard Morris, and it's running at Drury Lane Oak Brook, 10 Drury, Oakbrook Terrace. Tickets are $29-$38; call 630-530-0111. The production runs through Dec. 20.

Windy City Times regrets the error.


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