Monday, 04 September 2017 21:02

The Queen of Soul Returns to Ravinia

After cancelling her performance earlier this season due to health concerns, the Queen of Soul, the great Aretha Franklin, tabbed as the greatest vocalist of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine, made her triumphant return to Ravinia. Dressed in a sparkling silver dress and donning a wig giving the seventy-five-year-old living legend long straight hair, the superstar made an immediate impact as she walked onto the stage after the band’s opening medley.

The soulful 1986 hit “I knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” was the first song the of many that Franklin delved into, her voice perhaps not as powerful as it once was, but every bit as finessed, unique and velvety. Franklin’s set was wide-ranging and included classics “Chain of Fools” and “(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman” along with Stevie Wonder written “Until You Come Back to Me” and B.B. King’s “Don’t Play that Song (You Lied)”.

Accompanied by a twenty-five-piece-plus gifted ensemble that included everything from a horn section to dancers, Franklin’s sound was big, filling the outdoor venue with the sweet sound of nostalgia. The excitement never let up, Franklin often getting well-deserved standing ovations. After all, she is one of the most influential artists of our time.

About halfway into the concert, the fabulous singer went into a powerful medley that began with Adelle’s “Rolling in the Deep” merging into The Supremes’ “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough”. A highlight moment without question. At one point the crowd was moved when the band played a soulful jam while Aretha fervently sang over the music telling her story of a serious illness that had miraculously vanished, thanking a team of skilled physicians and above all, God. Afterward, she immediately introduced longtime friend Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was seated in the first few rows.

Franklin rolled on with a beautiful array of material, wrapping up her set with “Freeway of Love”, which segued into a ten-minute high-spirited gospel revival, praising Jesus as the King of Kings, practically every audience member on their feet clapping along, many hands in the air, as the stage became a platform for an impromptu and very enthusiastic Baptist church service.

After a brief absence from the stage, Aretha Franklin return to perform possibly her largest hit, “Respect” - just the right number to end a tremendous set of music on a picture-perfect night. At seventy-five-years-young, the Queen of Soul is still making fans sing and dance as much as she ever has.


Published in In Concert

While not explicitly a biography about The Supremes, "Dreamgirls" is awfully close. It's a Quincy Jones-flavored musical about the road to fame, and the pitfalls of show business. Porchlight Theatre concludes its season with a rarely produced modern classic. Choreographed and directed by Brenda Didier, with musical direction by Doug Peck, "Dreamgirls" is a delight. 

 

"Dreamgirls" is really one of the first musicals about the early days of rock 'n roll. Though it's about more than just the rise of the "girl group" in popular music. The book by Tom Eyen uses a familiar story to illustrate how mainstream music helped open minds about race in America. The original Broadway production opened in 1981 and ran for four years. It has since been adapted into an Oscar-nominated film. 

 

Porchlight has assembled an all-star cast for this production. Particularly Donica Lynn as Effy. The three Dreams fill the rafters with soaring vocals. While Lynn may be the voice, Candace C. Edwards and Katherine Thomas as co-Dreams, turn in strong performances as well. Eric Lewis is electrifying in the role of fictional soul legend Jimmy Early. His numbers are thrilling.  

 

Didier's vision for this show is vivid. Her choreography is high-energy and visually pleasing throughout. Peck's musical direction proves a high point as well. It's not often you find yourself thinking about the band in a theatrical performance - but the wall of sound coming from this pit is a funky good time. Rounding out aesthetics are Bill Morey's costumes, which are well conceived and provide an extra layer of authenticity. 

 

Porchlight Music Theatre turns out another gem at Stage 773. "Dreamgirls" is a feast for the eyes and ears. Shows like "The Wiz" and "Dreamgirls" aren't produced nearly as often as they should be, which makes this impressive production all the more rare. The vocals are so good you'll wish you could take the soundtrack home with you. 

 

Through May 22nd at Stage 773. 1225 W Belmont Ave. 773-327-5252

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

....a few minutes in, Human Nature welcomed us to the 'party'.  Their shiny shoes and bow tie look indicated to me to get ready for a class act!  From Sidney, Australia, these four men who referred to themselves as ordinary guys, proved within minutes to be 'extra ordinary'.  With a love for music and dance as teens they performed as a barber shop quartet, but soon shifted to Motown, loving the beat and soul of such groups as the Temptations.  Motown was birthed in the United States in the late 50's, but soon reached the ears of Mike, Andrew, Phil and Toby lighting a fire that never quit.

During the performance the highs and lows of harmony was done beautifully.  Music and rhythm aside, just watching four handsome men, suited up, brought class into the house and heightened the crowd with anticipation.  "Shop Around" brought back memories for me, and when "Stop in the Name of Love" filled the room it took you back in time when young people would escape into the fun of music.  This show was family friendly, but it wasn't a surprise to see the seats filled with older folks who related so much with the Motown sound.

Mike, Andrew, Phil and Toby have been together musically for twenty-five years.  The lead singer Mike, who initiated this 'dream' said it all began with "I'll Be There".  Their relationship with Smokey Robinson is genuine and productive in honoring Motown, and Human Nature is continuing to keep the heart and soul of Motown alive.  The energy level these guys had, the 'moves' and quality singing certainly is worth checking out.  Each performer is gifted, but the four together were amazingly entertaining. There was just the right mix of performance and audience participation to really keep the fun going.  Backed up by the Hollas Band Las Vegas, Human Nature brought home a sound that brought history back to life!  It just couldn't have been better!

Smokey Robinson’s Human Nature: The Motown Show is currently playing at The Sands Showroom inside Las Vegas’ glitzy Venetian Hotel and Casino. With hits from the Four Tops, The Supremes, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder you’ll find this show to be one of Vegas’ most fun and inspirational.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Of the many Christmas shows I have seen over the years, Mary Wilson of The Supremes and The Four Tops may have collaborated for one of the best I have seen with their Holiday Spectacular. Amazing vocals, flashy costumes, classic band hits and a bevy of holiday song favorites made this night at Harris Theater one to remember.

The Four Tops, led by founding member Abdul “Duke” Fakir, kicked off the show with a handful of their own hits including “Reach Out”, “Bernadette”, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and “Baby, I Need Your Loving”. Spin moves and choreographed  routines that help made them famous in the late 1950s and early 1960s were still highly present as the band motored its way through the night. Beautiful harmonies swept across the auditorium while The Four Tops tackled Christmas favorites “Silent Night” and “White Christmas” before Mary Wilson joined them on other beloved melodies like “My Favorite Things”. Wilson and Fakir also collaborated on one of the highlight moments of the evening when the two teamed up for a duet for an amazing rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.

Mary Wilson was simply astounding. Looking fantastic and sounding silky smooth she plunged into many of The Supremes most notable songs “Baby Love”, “Can’t Hurry Love” and “Stop In the Name of Love”. Wilson had the help of a 15-plus piece band, backup singers and dancers, making each number larger than life. Another show stopping moment was when Wilson sang a breathtaking version of “Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas”.

The mood was certainly merry throughout the crowd during this festive and most memorable event. Audience members rose to their feet with regularity. Toes were tapping and hands were clapping. It was certainly a treat to see these performing legends work together and we can only hope that Mary Wilson’s Holiday Spectacular Featuring Special Guest The Four Tops will return next year. 

Published in In Concert

 

 

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