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Review of AT LAST: A Tribute to Etta James Written and directed by Jackie Taylor Co-director Daryl D. Brooks, Musical Director Robert Reddrick Through December 28, 2014 At the Black Ensemble Theater in Chicagowww.blackensemble.org
James. Etta James, Etta James, I gotta have my Etta James." This refrain
is repeated over and over again in an almost ritualized fashion evoking the
great singer of blues, jazz, country blues, soul, rock and roll, and just about
anything else that was thrown at her in Jackie Taylor's dramatized revue AT
LAST: A TRIBUTE TO ETTA JAMES at the Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago.
posits the many Etta James' and has five wonderful singers portraying each of
her multi-dimensions played by Candace Edwards, Arzula Gardner Melanie McCullogh, Alanna Taylor, and Yahdina Udeen.Each has a different aspect of her personality and each
has her own incredible singing voice. One who is more soulful, to one who is
more gutsy, to one who is more childlike, to one who is more bluesy, and to one
who is a more straight-ahead composite of all them. And the women explore the
many personalities behind the songs at the prodding and demanding of one Ms.
Real. She insists that they are all brought together to understand and pay
tribute to the great person that they all represent.
dramatic revue is about how Ms. Real, played by Rueben Echoles,who is conducting the "tribute"
to Etta, insists that they must explore the different facets of Etta's
psychology: her bouts with depression and drugs, her self hating, her problems
with men and her inability to love herself. And the show has the many Etta
James' argue with themselves and sing their hearts out from one hit song to
another (with much support from the audience who do shout outs as though at
James' memoir "Rage to Survive" she has to go through such therapeutic
experiences, when she is given the choice by a judge to go to rehab
or go to jail for her drug habits as well as other crimes she has committed.
She chose rehab and just as in Taylor's show, Etta resisted learning about her
psychological disorders with all her might.
each singer taunts the other in opposition, counterpoint and in exploration of
the true Etta James. This is enacted in the second act by a singing competition
and each Etta James tries to outdo the other in singing prowess reaching and
raising the rafters on each song and finally coming to the realization that
each is an important aspect of who Etta is. Imagine James Brown, Phoebe Snow,
Diana Ross, Roberta Flack and Mahalia Jackson all combined into one and maybe
you'll understand the power and emotion of Etta James. Clearly Jackie Taylor
milks the most out of these singing voices (and Etta's voice did change over
the course of her career).
weaknesses in the piece are in the scriptwriting, especially in the first act as
it sets up the confrontations in the second act, and in how it doesn't really
tell us much about Etta James' life story. According to her memoir it is
fascinating, dramatic, heartbreaking, and poignant.
singing and the performances of each of the Etta James' is truly amazing. They
go from one iconic song to the next and finally end on what we have all been
waiting for "At Last." And even though we know that this is where
they are heading from the very beginning -- as we hear from each actor singing
from the depths of Etta's soul, we must join in and say "Etta James, Etta
James, Etta James, I gotta have my Etta James."