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A Whole Lot Of Soul 
In the Black Ensemble Theater's Women of Soul, it's an uplifting celebration of some very special vocalists
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  AFTER the Black Ensemble Theater’s successful 2015 presentation of Men of Soul, it’s natural––and quite appropriate–-that the spotlight is now being turned on Women of Soul, a powerful collection of some of the most talented and influential singers in music.
   From Gladys Knight to Diana Ross to Tina Turner to Janet Jackson to Mahalia Jackson, this celebration of soul that runs through January 13 features music from past and present and highlights genres of soul with tributes to an amazing group of gifted vocalists, including Dionne Warwick, Whitney Houston, Mavis Staples, Donna Summer, Etta James, Anita Baker, Janis Joplin, Natalie Cole, Tina Marie, Jill Scott, Adele, Big Mama Thornton, Evelyn (Champagne) King, Vesta, Amy Winehouse, Mary J. Blige, Deniece Williams and Betty Wright.
   Of course, no such production would be complete without the Queen of Soul, the recently departed Aretha Franklin, an 18-time Grammy Award-winner who gave the world some timeless and priceless music that cemented as part of the industry’s strongest elements. “Ain’t No Way,” “I Never Loved A Man,” “Think,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” “Rock Steady,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” all Aretha classics that set the standard for women of soul.
   In writer and director Daryl D. Brooks’ tribute, the music is the highlight, but the show includes more than one song after another in revue style. There is narration about each performer that offers some interesting––sometimes little-known––professional and personal facts about each singer, such as a 1979 incident in which Disco Queen Donna Summer apparently had prepared to jump from a hotel window and commit suicide until a member of the housekeeping staff intervened.
––Walter Leavy
Anthony Bowden (Brick) and Genevieve Angelson (Maggie) in the classic production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Drury Lane Theatre.
Ariel Williams (above) performs as Janet Jackson and Jessica Seals (below) as Betty Wright, famous for the songs "Clean Up Woman" and "Tonight is the Night."
   The cast––Black Ensemble alums and newcomers––embraces their roles and creates many special moments during the show, including an “Old School/New School Battle,” a Rick James/Tina Marie duet of “Fire and Desire” by Dwight Neal and Hannah Efsits, and a rousing rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” by Jerica Exum. Other outstanding performances are delivered by Cynthia Carter, Robin DaSilva, Colleen Perry, Rhonda Preston, Jessica Seals, Aerial Williams and Jayla Williams-Craig. Each tune is accompanied by the music of Black Ensemble regulars, musical director/arranger Robert Reddrick (drums), Adam Sherod (keyboards), Dolpha Fowler Jr. (keyboards 2), Mark Miller (bass) and Gary Baker (guitar).
   For theatergoers, Women of Soul is a musical lesson for some and a walk down memory lane for others. No matter which of those categories audience members might fit into, Women of Soul is all entertainment, a fascinating musical journey that entertainingly showcases the music enthusiastically embraced by people around the world. 

​Tickets for Women of Soul are available at the Black Ensemble Theater box office, located at 4450 N. Clark Street, or online at www.blackensemble.org. or by phone at 773/769-4451. Tickets are priced at $55 for Saturday matinees and $65 on Friday and Saturday evenings and for Sunday matinees. A 10 percent discount is available for students, seniors and groups.
Brett Beiner Photography
The Women of Soul cast includes (left to right) Hannah Efsits, Cynthia Carter, Jessica Seals, Colleen Perry, Jerica Exum, Robin DaSilva, Ariel Williams, Rhonda Preston (center) and (front center) Jayla Williams-Craig.
Photography by Alan Davis