Rock 'n' roll pioneer Ruth Brown once performed before a segregated audience, the ballroom divided by a long rope. By the end of the concert the rope had broken and the crowd had lost--and found--themselves in the music. It happens here too. Jackie Taylor's tribute to black doo-wop groups and singers of the 1950s has been a vibrant success since its soul-stirring debut in 1995, moving to the Ivanhoe and Mercury theaters and playing the DuSable Museum of African American History and Navy Pier's Skyline Stage. Now better than ever, it's come home to Black Ensemble for a four-week run. The show remains at once celebratory--paying unexpected tribute to the progress, both musical and political, of the Eisenhower years--and cautionary. African-American girl and guy groups may have reinvented heavenly harmony, but they were fleeced by white agents and record companies as everyone competed for pieces of a shrinking pie. Few artists crossed over, able to keep the songs they created, and even the survivors seldom got credit, recognition, or royalties. But that sad story doesn't undermine the high spirits here--in fact, these doo-wop classics are all the more valuable for the pain behind their contagious jubilation. You can also savor Chicago's contributions, by the El Dorados, Spaniels, Moonglows, Chantels, and Flamingos, and the unimprovable seven-man combo, led by genius music director Jimmy Tillman. Taylor's ensemble are so right they give you goose bumps and tears at once. Black Ensemble Theater, Uptown Center Hull House, 4520 N. Beacon, 773-769-4451. Through January 17: Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 9 PM; Sundays, 4 PM; no show Friday, December 25 or January 1. $25.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photos.