Chicago Theater Review: ONE HIT WONDERS (Black Ensemble Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 22, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


No question, Black Ensemble Theatre’s latest offering boasts the usual superb quality control of sounds and notes, casting, performance, ensemble rapport, and musical impeccability that distinguish their worthy works. Contrary to previous delights by Jackie Taylor that showcased Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, or Howlin’ Wolf, its title One Hit Wonders suggests a fascinating possibility: Rueben D. Echoles’ latest effort will pay homage to the little stars–all the flashes in the pan who never repeated their success. We’d get to see how they handled their fifteen minutes of fame. How did these temporary top dogs accept the unwanted return to underdog status in a field as ferocious as the music biz?

Lyle Miller, Ereatha McCullough

Well, the title refers only to a show-within-this-show being created by the eleven members of an unnamed company. Though we never learn why, it’s the dream project of Mike (Mark J.P. Hood), an ambitious producer with an understandably short fuse. To finally achieve a chance at a tour, Mike must-fine tune and micro-manage his fractious troupe.

Ta-Tynisa Wilson and Kelvin Roston Jr.

Alas, One Hit Wonders doesn’t trust the promise of its premise. Rather than explore the fascinating fates of one-off chart-busters, Echoles’ new work becomes an entertaining but fatefully familiar backstage revue, complete with clichéd characters: Divorced parents with sons following different musical destinies; a lovable gay performer who gets mugged but doesn’t mind; clashing divas; jealous showdowns; and a young hotshot whose dream of L.A. fails so he can return to his Chi-town roots. The plot, a sad excuse for the songs, doesn’t illustrate the crises that challenged these too-brief phenoms and wanna-be superstars. It’s straight out of the bottom of the trunk.

Kelvin Roston Jr., Brittney Thomas, Lyle Miller, Yando Lopez

One Hit Wonders is most interesting when Daryl D. Brooks’ terrific cast interrupt their behind-the-scenes shenanigans to relate the stories and sing the notes behind these one-time hits. With two giant MP3 players displaying titles and artists, the unimprovable performers sometimes perform these transient treasures better than the originals, almost always as well. These include “Follow Me,” “I Will Survive,” “Hey There Lonely Girl,” Mr. and Mrs. Jones,” “What You Won’t Do For Love,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “It’s Raining Men,” and “It Takes Two.” Admittedly, these numbers, their creators’ highly conditional claims to fame, aren’t all that well remembered today, except from sheer nostalgia. But they come to full and first life here: Always at the top of his form, music director Robert Reddrick never met a note he didn’t like.

Lyle Miller

Of course, with a tribute show like this we like to believe that the music can sing for itself. It can’t. It needs context and here it gets the wrong one. It would have been much better to get more background on these unrepeated successes and less back story on these plucky but predictable showbiz hopefuls.

photos by Danny Nicholas

One Hit Wonders
Black Ensemble Theatre
Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark St
Wed and Thurs at 7:30 pm;
Fri at 8 pm; Sat at 3 and 8 pm; Sun at 3 pm
scheduled to end on June 29, 2014
for tickets, call (773) 769-4451 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

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