When I reviewed Black Ensemble Theater's summer production in Chicago, "The Marvin Gaye Story: Don't Talk About My Father Because God Is My Friend," I alerted readers to watch for great things to come from cast member Lisa Beasley of Gary.
And now, she's center stage in the spotlight at the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark St. in Chicago, as one of the talented stars of the venue's latest show.
The world premiere of "One Name Only: A Different Kind of Reality Show," written and directed by Black Ensemble Associate Director Rueben Echoles, has been packing in the audiences since it first opened Sept. 28.
It's down to the final two weeks of the run before it closes Nov. 11 and it's another show you don't want to miss.
It features the hits of Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner and Whitney Houston all in this one two-hour show paying tribute to "the Ladies of Soul" and today's TV genre of crowning "instant stars" before viewers' very eyes.
The premise pits 12 promising unknown performance hopefuls, all eager to risk everything for a chance at $100,000 and a recording contract.
The cast includes Black Ensemble audience favorites such as Katrina Miller in an entertaining and energetic turn as Gladys Knight and Tina Turner; Dawn Bless giving it her all as Patti LaBelle and a haughty Aretha Franklin; along with Dee Lane, Lydia Brown, Jerica Exum, Monique Miller, Ta-Tynisa Wilson, Ninah Snipes, and A'rese Emokepae as the fierce singing competitors; while Terry Francois, Brandon Homes, Lyle Miller, Rashawn Thompson and Dwight Neal are the men who round out the cast.
But it really is Beasley who steals the show as a determined single mom (who's a little rough around the edges) against all odds to shine as a new star. All of these ladies have phenomenal voices. The audience (yes, there's some fun participation) and judging panel have a tough task to pick a favorite.
As with all Black Ensemble Theater productions, Robert Reddrick serves as musical director, making the music the centerpiece of the action. The fantastic Black Ensemble Musicians include Reddrick on drums, Tracey Baker on bass, Herbert Walker on guitar, and Mark Moultrup on piano, and horn section Bill McFarland, Paul Howard and Dudley Owens set the house on fire.
Tickets are $55 for 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 3 p.m. Saturday matinees; and $65 at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, and 3 p.m. Sunday matinees. A 10 percent discount is available for students, seniors, and groups. FYI: (773) 769-4451 or BlackEnsembleTheater.org. There's plenty of street parking and also valet parking available.
Founded in 1976, by the phenomenal producer, playwright and actress Jackie Taylor, Black Ensemble Theater is the only African American theater located in the culturally, racially and ethnically diverse north side Uptown community of Chicago. The Black Ensemble Theater has mounted more than 100 productions and employed over 5,000 artists and now boasts a beautiful new theater performance space that just opened earlier this year.