A Piece of My Soul | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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When A Piece of My Soul debuted last summer, it was a low-budget production in the spartan upstairs studio at Victory Gardens. But the talented, enthusiastic ensemble brought audiences to their feet, clapping and witnessing in jubilation, and the text packed an entire course in the history of American gospel music into a bare two hours. Rodney Lewis's exhaustive chronicle begins with the preaching of William Seymour, who combined melodic improvisation with oratory, and the compositions of Thomas Dorsey, founder of the first gospel music publishing house. The playwright also pays homage to such pioneers as the Reverend James Cleveland and the Soul Stirrers as well as crossover artists like Mahalia Jackson and Sam Cooke--there's even a nod to the blind men quartets popular in the late 50s. Further polished and streamlined on a subsequent tour, A Piece of My Soul now moves into the Arie Crown Theater with a lineup that features guest appearances by such homegrown gospel luminaries as Albertina Walker and the Barrett Sisters. Can we get a hallelujah? Arie Crown Theater, McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore, 312-559-1212. May 21 through 23: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 7 PM. $19.50-$24.50. --Mary Shen Barnidge

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