As part of the 2015 Chicago Humanities Festival, the William and Greta Wiley Flory Concert presented FOUR WOMEN: JOSEPHINE, EARTHA, NINA, AND TINA. For one-night-only, two evening shows were performed at the Francis Parker auditorium on November 2, 2015.
The creative team of Rob Lindley (co-writer and director) and Doug Peck (conductor, music director, pianist) selected a tribute to four iconic expatriates to honor this year’s CHF theme “Citizens.” Through song, narration and visual projections, Lindley and Peck, along with Lili-Anne Brown (co-writer and host), told the extraordinary stories of Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone and Tina Turner. These four talented black ladies rose to fame by overcoming prejudice and adversities. The glimpse into their lives and souls was made unforgettable by a stage of Chicago’s best performers: Dee Alexander, Karla Beard-Leroy, E. Faye Butler, Monique Haley, Lynne Jordan, Alexis Rogers and Bethany Thomas.
The diva-fest was kicked off by Alexander singing a sultry “Feelin‘ Good.” She started in the theatre wings and then made her grand entrance that was greeted by an enthusiastic audience. This was followed by a playful rendition of a Josephine classic, “Island in the West Indies.” As the pint-size powerhouse Rogers sang the tune, Haley shook her bananas. During a few numbers, Haley accompanied the songs with dance. Haley, resembling Josephine’s bold theatrics, delivered impressive feats of physicality.
The show was one long series of delights. Beard-Leroy, Thomas and Jordan sang an Eartha international medley. Beard-Leroy sang her verse in French, Thomas in Turkish, and Jordan in full-on moxie. Each of the ladies perfectly mimicking Earth’s husky signature vocals and sassy persona. Since Josephine, Eartha and Nina left the unkind USA to find refuge in their adopted country of France, French songs sprinkled the program. During the Nina segment, Beard-Leroy returned to sing a lovely “Ne me quitte pas.”
The incomparable E. Faye Butler teased the audience with a light-hearted “I want to be evil.” And then she came back with the show-stopping “What’s love got to do with it.” Butler, completely at ease with the audience, coaxed clapping and singing as she shook the rafters with her formidable vocal stylings. Butler commanded and received a completely captivated audience.
All these talented ladies showcased why they were chosen to illustrate the lives of these four legends especially Bethany Thomas. An emotional Thomas poured out her heart in “Private Dancer.” Although we felt her heart-ripping anguish, we were secretly charmed by her superb rendition of Tina’s smash hit. And for the grand finale, Thomas led the full cast in “River Deep, Mountain High.” She was outstanding in dynamically ending the show.
FOUR WOMEN: JOSEPHINE, EARTHA, NINA AND TINA was phenomenally brought to life by 8 women, 2 creators and an 8 piece orchestra. The only bad part is it’s already over! 🙁
Still, there is a week left of the 2015 Chicago Humanities Festival.
2015 Chicago Humanities Festival
October 25th through November 8th