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Stellar reincarnation of the ‘Soulful ’60s’ at Black Ensemble Theater

First things first: Every member of the Black Ensemble Theater revue “Those Sensational Soulful ’60s” not only lives up to the names and voices of the many fabled artists they channel so brilliantly, but (and this might come close to heresy), in some cases they all but eclipse them. They are amazing talents.

And then there is this: As the opening salvo in Black Ensemble’s 40th anniversary season, to be devoted to reprising its “Greatest Hit” shows, this revue, which was written and directed by Jackie Taylor, will be difficult to top. Although, for pure vintage fun, you might want to check out “Doo Wop Shoo Bop,” which is running in rotating rep with “Soulful ’60s” and features most of the same performers.

Finally, if you ever entertained any doubts about the overall musical genius that permeated the chaotic, society-altering decade of the ’60s, this show will set you straight.

Kyle Smith (front, who plays Jackie Wilson), in the Black Ensemble Theater revue, "Those Sensational Soulful '60s." (Photo: Danny Nicholas)

Kyle Smith (front, who plays Jackie Wilson), and other cast members of the Black Ensemble Theater revue, “Those Sensational Soulful ’60s.” (Photo: Danny Nicholas)

Let’s begin with the truly sensational performances of Shari Addison, whose golden voice adjusts easily as she moves from one diva to the next, suggesting Aretha Franklin (“Respect”), Gladys Knight (“Neither One of Us”) and Mahalia Jackson (“Precious Lord Take My Hand”). Her vocal luster could not be more thrilling, but this is no straightforward “imitation.” Addison brings her own heart, soul and easy charisma to the stage at every turn. Bravo.

Also a knockout is Jessica Seals, who gives a fabulously stylish version of Ella Fitzgerald singing the Kurt Weill classic “Mack the Knife” — with playfully throaty hints of Louis Armstrong along the way.

Melanie McCullough brings back Etta James and her torchy hit “At Last,” and Kyla Frye gives us a touch of “country soul” by way of Esther Phillips.


Highly recommended

When: Through March 19

Where: Black Ensemble Theatre, 4450 N. Clark

Tickets: $55 – $65

Info: (773) 769-4451; www.blackensemble.org

Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission

Shari Addison conjures the spirit of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Mahalia Jackson in “Those Sensational Doulful ‘6os,” at the Black Ensemble Theater. (Photo: Danny Nicholas)

It all begins, naturally enough, with Kyle Smith reminding us about Sam Cooke, the Chicago-bred wonder, dead by 33 but the force behind such classics as “A Change is Gonna Come,” “You Send Me,” “Everybody Likes to Cha Cha Cha,” “Chain Gang,” “Cupid” and “Twisting the Night Away,” all winningly performed by the ensemble.

RaShawn Thompson gives us Smokey Robinson (via a rollicking “Mickey’s Monkey”), and, to demonstrate that soul transcends color, also evokes Frank Sinatra with an edgy “That’s Life.”

Kenny Davis does an uncanny rendering of “What Kind of Fool Am I,” the Anthony Newley hit covered by Sammy Davis Jr., then gives a hilarious and wonderful take on Stevie Wonder.

David Simmons reminds us of that guy named Ike Turner.

And Otis Redding is brought back to life by Theo Huff’s wonderfully funky rendering of “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”

Melanie McCullough and Jessica Seals in the Black Ensemble Theater revue of "Those Sensational Soulful '60s." (Photo: Danny Nicholas)

Melanie McCullough and Jessica Seals in the Black Ensemble Theater revue of “Those Sensational Soulful ’60s.” (Photo: Danny Nicholas)

Of course, the meticulously harmonized and choreographed groups of the 1960s are not forgotten here, with delicious medleys conjuring memories of The Supremes and The Temptations.

To top it off, there is an 11th-hour number that raises the roof, as Kyle Smith — a mischievous fellow whose dance moves catch your eye throughout — suddenly bursts into the Jackie Wilson number “Higher & Higher,” performing a series of split jumps and other fantastic-elastic feats, leaving the audience in a  state of ecstasy.

Sensational, without question.