Among the staff at Uptown's Black Ensemble Theater, company founder and CEO Jackie Taylor is colloquially referred to as "the Queen." I wonder if that makes associate director Rueben D. Echoles—whose influence and directorial interpretation of the jukebox biomusical is recognizable up and down BE's roster of original plays—a duke. For better and worse, as writer and director, Echoles's latest rundown of a diva's discography exhibits all the cogs audiences have come to expect in BE's well-oiled machine.
These include (a) at least two pair of heels being kicked off during paint-peeling, goosebump-triggering renditions of hits like "Lady Marmalade" and "On My Own;" (b) gaudy bass and cymbal-brush underscoring during every instance of domestic violence or family tension; (c) healthy doses of gospel, both religious and secular, throughout; and (d) informative chronological tidbits presented in no particular order. As a senior LaBelle narrating her journey from 60s girl-group frontrunner to disco icon to legacy diva, Dawn Bless gives a larger-than-life performance that taps into LaBelle's electric stage presence and mannerisms without sacrificing her own personable and affable stage presence. Likewise, as a young Patti, Cherise Thomas showcases extraordinary chops and the spirit of a master who knows her value in a studio—even if the rest of the world is just catching up.
The way in which A New Attitude blazes through Behind the Music-style milestones makes LaBelle's unique career journey look almost indiscernible from that of just about every other diva BE has covered, but as a pastiche of a legend, there's no denying how hot this revue burns. v