By Edith McCauley
An evening of song and stories at the Lincolnshire Marriot gave friends, family and fans a retrospective of the career of the amazing E. Faye Butler. Her one-woman show Nov. 16 received accolades from her audience. Over the years, Faye has worked with hundreds of musicians, and the group that accompanied and enhanced her performance last week are the best of the best. The brass section supported and intensified every piece, and bass, percussion, guitar and keyboard completed an entourage seldom seen on stage.
As she entered the theater in the round, elegantly gowned, we immediately knew this was a woman in complete control. There was never a doubt. Having first met Faye at the Clock Tower Dinner Theater in the early ’80s, my earliest memories were those of Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’. She most recently reprised her role at the Goodman, but shared with us her difficulties with the strenuous dance numbers. The voice remains. When she sang “Squeeze Me,” we remembered her on stage left at the Clock Tower interacting with every man in the audience. Her ability to make everyone a part of her personal and professional life is one of her greatest strengths.
Her program incorporated nearly every show, and she has played throughout the country. Beginning in Rockford with Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Tan and Sassy, she quickly moved to Chicago. We saw her in My Name is Alice and were there the afternoon she took over a role when a fellow cast member was injured. From Dolly, Dinah and Ella she recreated the women who made the music we all love. Charles Newell, director at the Court Theatre, cast her in Caroline or Change. He said she alone could give Caroline credibility. He was in the audience last week, and Faye acknowledged his importance to her career.
Her purple costume in the second act was a tribute to her mother, Liz. She often told Faye that “the queen wears purple.” Telling of the loss of Liz and of her 99-year-old grandmother still living in Rockford and for whom Faye and her husband, Bernard, make regular trips to care for, we saw the commitment to family that is so important.
It was a joy to see so many old friends. Dorothy Paige-Turner brought Grandma Pitt’s caretaker, Rosie. Estelle Black was there with a friend, and we met many Chicago theater people.
It is hoped this is only the beginning of a highly-successful show. Not just a musical revue, but the story of comedy and grief, failure and success. It is truly a life story…one that we can relate to.
Running at the Marriot Theater, Hairspray closes Dec. 6. E. Faye Butler is Motormouth Maybelle, and it is hoped we will see it before closing.
From the December 2-8, 2009 issue