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Style & Grace: In Tribute To Lena Horne And Nancy Wilson
The Black Ensemble Theater production spotlights the careers and personal lives of two legendary performers 
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​Ross’ (David Schwimmer) girlfriend on “Friends.” During seven episodes on the show, Tom was kind of a lightning rod for fans of the show, some who didn’t like the fact that she had taken Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) place in Ross’ heart. “Fans still get angry about that,” she says. “There was a live audience [during filming of the show], and they would boo me when I came on because they really wanted Ross to be with Rachel.”
   Not to be discouraged, Tom moved on and exhibited even more of her talents, using her voice in popular animated series such as "Futurama," "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness," "Pound Puppies," "Teacher’s Pet," "Batman Beyond" and "Mulan 2." 
   Now, it’s all about Andi Mack, the much talked-about series, where Andi, played by 13-year-old Peyton Elizabeth Lee, was abandoned by her teenaged mother. Enter Lauren Tom as Celia Mack, Andi’s grandmother who made her believe that she and Andi’s grandfather were her parents––and her real mom was her sister.
   There will be more to this continuing story when Andi Mack returns to the Disney Channel on Mondays in June.
Photography courtesy of Disney Channel
–– Walter Leavy
Photograph by Liz Lauren
   THEY created some of the most timeless and memorable music in history––two elegant ladies with mesmerizing voices that captured the hearts and imaginations of music lovers who still appreciate their incredible talents.
   Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson brought a level of class to the music industry that shaped their legacies and set them apart from their contemporaries during two distinct eras of music––all of which is highlighted in the Black Ensemble Theater’s presentation of Style & Grace: In Tribute to Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson, running through June 30.
   Black Ensemble Theater’s newest associate director, Kylah Frye, who is a longtime member of the theater’s ensemble of actors, wrote and directed the tribute that’s a combination of the vocalists’ personal history and the captivating music that elevated them to legendary status.
   The story is told in two segments, capitalizing on the beginnings of their careers and proceeding to their later contributions. Frye chose to highlight the talents of Aeriel Williams to showcase Lena Horne’s earlier years, and Jayla Williams Craig is cast to portray an emerging Nancy Wilson. Both deliver entertaining and convincing performances, with Williams grabbing the microphone to sing popular Horne songs such as “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” “Stormy Weather” and “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (And Dream Your Troubles Away”); and Craig steps up on Wilson’s songs such as “On The Sunny Side of the Street,” “Broken Hearted Melody” and perhaps Nancy’s most popular tune “Guess Who I Saw Today?”
    In the midst of the songs, historical tidbits from the singers’ lives come to the forefront, including a 16-year-old Lena starting her career at the Cotton Club for $25 a week, and Nancy, who at 15, was a hit on the TV show “Skyline Melodies,” but turned down a big opportunity to tour with popular saxophonist Rusty Bryant because she wanted to finish high school and go to college. “If I’m going do it [singing career],” she said, “I want to do it right.”
   In the second half of the show, the focus is on the highs and lows of Lena’s and Nancy’s careers that had been established and created great popularity while, at the same time, forcing them to face some incredible challenges. For those later years, Lena is portrayed by Chantee Joy, and popular Black Ensemble mainstay Rhonda Preston is in the Nancy Wilson role. Joy is impressive on songs such as “I Got Rhythm,” “Night and Day” and “Just One of Those Things.” In Wilson’s familiar style, Preston gave impassioned versions of Wilson’s hits, including “I Wish You Love,” “The Greatest Performance of My Life” and “Face It Girl.”
   Completing the cast are Vincent Jordan, Kelvin Davis, Lemond Hayes, Linnea Norwood and Ryan Armstrong––each of whom brings valuable contributions to the production.
   Style & Grace: In Tribute to Lena Horne and Nancy Wilson gives compelling insight into the sometimes complicated lives of two admired performers who earned their celebrated places on music’s highest pedestal. 

––Walter Leavy
Tickets are available at www.blackensemble.org, (773) 769-4451 or at the Black Ensemble Theater Box Office, 4450 N. Clark Street in Chicago. Single tickets for regular season performances are priced at $55 for Thursday and Saturday matinees; and $65 on Fridays, Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees. A 10 percent discount is available for students, seniors and groups.
Photographs by Alan Davis
Aeriel Williams as Lena Horne in the early years.
Jayla Williams Craig as young Nancy Wilson
Chantee Joy as Lena Horne in later years
Rhonda Preston as Nancy Wilson in later years