Wednesday January 23 5:44 pm

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

One Hit after Another in “A New Attitude: in Tribute to Patti LaBelle”


Looking back at the reviews I’ve written about the musicals at Black Ensemble Theater, I’ve commented that the music was terrific, but I’ve been critical of the script, using words like contrived, awkward, phony or made-up for the dialogue. In “A New Attitude: in Tribute to Patti LaBelle”, Reuben D. Echoles, playwright/director/choreographer, has wisely kept the dialogue to a minimum.

The older Patti, Dawn Bless, opens the show with a dynamite rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, then takes the audience on a sentimental journey through her life and career. Young Patti, Cherise Thomas, winds up Act I with psychedelic soul hit, “Lady Marmalade with that sexy sing-along chorus, “Voulez vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?”

The biographical parts of the show:
• Her early life with her parents, Henry and Bertha Holt, and her three sisters, Vivian, Barbara and Jackie.
• A shy little girl, Patti joined the church choir and demanded her first solo soon after.
• Patti was engaged to Otis Wilson of the Temptations, but broke the engagement when he suggested she stop singing.
• She married was married to Armstead Edwards, who was also her manager, for more than 30 years.
• She has one son, Zuri.
• Between 1982 and 1989, she lost both parents and all three sisters.

Professional highlights:
• In high school, Patti formed a singing group, the Ordelles, with Cindy Birdsong (Kylah Williams), Sarah Dash (Jessica Brooks Seals) and Nona Hendryx (Renelle Nicole)
• When the Ordettes had a chance to audition for record producer Harold Robinson, he rejected them because Patti, as lead singer, was “too dark and too plain”, but changed his mind when they sang “I Sold My Heart to the Junk Man”. Robinson also changed the group’s name to Patti LaBelle and the Blue Bells.
• When Cindy Birdsong left to join the Supremes, Vicki Wickham took over as their manager, changed the group’s name to LaBelle, moved them into psychedelic soul music, and added sequins and feathers to their look.

In addition to “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “Lady Marmalade”, the song list in “A New Attitude: in Tribute to Patti LaBelle” includes “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, “What a Friend You Have in Jesus”, “Danny Boy”, “If Only You Knew”, “On My Own”, “New Attitude”, and lots more.

The talented ensemble includes Emily Hawkins, Linnea Norwood, Isaac Roseborough, Trequon Tate, Christopher Taylor and Mark Yacullo.

The BET musicians are led by Musical Director/Arranger, Robert Reddrick (drums), with Adam Sherod (keys), Gary Baker (guitar) and Mark Miller (bass).

“A New Attitude: in Tribute to Patti LaBelle” runs through June 17th at Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark Street, Chicago. Valet parking is available in the garage adjacent to the theater for $10.

Running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes, with an intermission. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 pm; and Sundays at 3:00 pm. Tickets range from $55-$65, with a 10% discount for students, seniors and groups. FYI (773) 769-4451 or