Theater Review: Edith McCauley: Reviews of Guilford, Chicago shows

Sweet Charity at Guilford High School

Under the direction of Leslie Biesbrouck, the spring production of Sweet Charity played recently at Guilford High School.

Written by Neil Simon, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by Cy Coleman, Sweet Charity is the story of women working in a sleazy joint as dance partners for lonely men.

Charity’s character is sometimes misinterpreted as that of a prostitute, and this misconception caused some turmoil as the production was in rehearsal. A public relations piece showing Charity as a voluptuous female was changed and seemed to satisfy those who were offended.

In her director’s notes, Biesbrouck said: “Sweet Charity is a show filled with difficult dance numbers, catchy tunes and cute characters, but it offers so much more. Charity is a girl who works in a sleazy joint, but manages to keep her innocence intact and make loving, healthy friendships that support her throughout her struggles.”

We all see things differently, but too often perceptions become judgmental.

This is Leslie Biesbrouck’s last year at Guilford. She is moving to Arizona to start a new life. Her talent and creativity the last six years has enriched the Theater Department at Guilford. She will be missed.

Nina Simone at Black Ensemble Theater

Jackie Taylor’s Black Ensemble Theater (BET) has become a showcase for the achievements of African-American women. Beginning with the 2004-2005 season, Somebody Say Amen (Great Women of Gospel) and continuing with At Last A Tribute to Etta James, these long-running shows have continued into the second season. The current production, Nina Simone: The High Priestess Speaks, combines the music and politics of the legendary Nina.

Yahdina U-Deen as Nina recreates her character with great authenticity. Seated center stage at her piano, she begins her story as a child prodigy, dreaming of a career as a classic pianist and facing the reality of prejudice. Turning to a job at a local bar, her career was launched with an album featuring “I Loves You, Porgy!”. Visually and vocally, U-Deen becomes Simone.

Writer Ebony Joy, collaborating with Executive Director Taylor and Musical Director Jimmy Tillman, has included the details of the politically outspoken woman who used her talent and music to awaken the public during the civil rights movement of the ’60s.

It was my privilege to see Nina Simone at the Ford Center for Performing Arts in the summer of 2000. A rare appearance in the United States, after 30 years living abroad, brought a sold-out house of fans, who gave standing ovations after every song.

In my review of that memorable evening, I wrote, “Her outspoken criticism of American politics, endemic racism and flawed foreign policy made her a target of the investigative community and, for all intents and purposes, ended her career in the United States.”

Little has changed, and Taylor’s Nina speaks today as effectively as the “consummate artist” she so well portrays.

A strong supporting cast includes Will Davis (Langston Hughes), Ruben D. Echoles (James Baldwin), Allen D. Edge (Andy Stroud), Darren M. Jones (Father, John C. Mon), Marquecia Jordan (Lorraine Hansberry), Morgan Malone (Miz Mazzy) and Dawn Mitchell (Nina’s Mother).

The show was extended until May 14. Tickets to Black Ensemble Theater events are available by calling the box office at (773) 769-4451 or Ticketmaster at (312) 902-1500.

In February, Jackie Taylor and the board of directors of Black Ensemble Theater announced the purchase of two buildings at 4440-4450 N. Clark St. After renovation, the 50,000-square-foot site is expected to open in spring 2008. The city of Chicago has approved a tax-increment financing district assistance grant of $6 million, and major fund-raising for the project is under way.

From the May 17-23, 2006, issue

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