BWW Review: The Good Times Do Roll in Larger-Than-Life Performances by E. Faye Butler and Felicia P. Fields
In the opening number of their revue, LETTIN' THE GOOD TIMES ROLL, E. Faye Butler and Felicia P. Fields sing "You only live once, so let the good times roll!" And for the next one hundred minutes,these two legendary divas unleash a torrent of song, story, and soul that rocks the Pickard Theater with unchained energy, joy, and inspiration.
LETTIN' THE GOOD TIMES ROLL is Butler and Fields' original cabaret creation - a heady concoction of twenty songs drawn from these two singing-actresses' long stage careers, each selected to accompany a story from their personal and intertwined journeys through thirty-two years of friendship and professional collaboration. Accompanied by a formidable band of six musicians, led by Frank L. Menzies, Butler and Fields recount in story and song their childhoods on Chicago's South Side, their musical roots, their career milestones, the friendships that have sustained them, and the lessons learned along the way. Interspersing the songs with anecdotes and improvised dialogue that is sassy, salty, witty, touching, often outrageously funny, the pair embrace their audience with an energy and exuberance that draws everyone into the collective celebration.
Given the more-than-three decades of their friendship, Butler and Fields can finish each other's sentences and can riff on shared themes with amazing seamlessness. They are able to move agilely from wild comedy to introspective moments, such as the chilling story of Butler's debut as Dolly Levi in whch she was confronted mid-performance by a racist heckler or Fields' nostalgic reminiscences about her late father and his support for her vocation. And to engage the Brunswick audience at these MSMT performances, they skillfully tailored and personalized some of their stories, such as their affectionate twitting of longtime friend and colleague, now MSMT Artistic Director, Curt Dale Clark,. The overall performance is a fast-paced, joyful ride that pulls the audience into the swirling vortex of the music and the performers' personae.
Both Butler and Fields are irresistibly dynamic singers, actresses, and human beings. Each possesses a miracle of vocal technique and interpretive power. Butler's range from mahogany low notes to gleaming belted highs is dazzling in and of itself, but coupled with the intensity of her delivery and the total investment of her being into the music, each song becomes a transformative experience. Fields' velvet-chocolate contralto has a resonance that is soul-deep, and she mesmerizes with her passion and power. A stellar group of mostly local musicians - Sean Potter (reeds), Dan Laciano (trumpet), Wade Johnston (guitar), Asher Barraras (bass), and Aaron Drescher (drums) conducted by Butler and Fields' Chicago music director, Frank L. Menzies (piano), provides the stunning instrumentals.
The musical selections are carefully chosen to chronicle milestones in Butler's and Fields' careers and lives, featuring shows in which they have starred or songs with personal significance running the gamut from musical comedy to jazz, blues, and gospel. Highlights include Butler's lovely and lyrical "Love Look in My Window" (a song for HELLO, DOLLY! given exclusively to her by Jerry Herman), and her thrilling rendition from GYPSY of "Rose's Turn," as well as Fields' show stopping, Tony-nominated rendition of "Hell No" from THE COLOR PURPLE. The pair shine in harmonically fascinating duets like "Can't Help Lovin' That Man/The Man I Love (from SHOWBOAT), "Bosom Buddies, and several Duke Ellington numbers including "I Got It Bad/Mood Indigo."
And there is abundant humor from the saucy, tongue-in-cheek original song, "That Wasn't Me," which pokes fun at the many times each has been misidentified as the other, to the double entendres in the hilariously bawdy blues tunes, "Range in My Kitchen" and "Long John." For Butler and Fields, laughter, like music, is another tool to break down barriers, skewer foibles, and open arms in a warm embrace.
Finally, there are the rousing gospel numbers which close the show and have the audience stomping and clapping in ecstatic harmony: "Didn't It Rain," "Lord I Tried," and the "Better People." It is this last song with its stirring vocals and message of kindness, compassion, and communication that proves an uplifting finale to an evening where music is not merely entertainment, but rather the lifeblood of the soul.
In LETTIN' THE GOOD TIMES ROLL, E. Faye Butler and Felicia P. Fields not only share their experiences with the audience, but they also reach out to draw their listeners into their own realm. Forces of nature and miracles of art, these two legendary ladies offer an unforgettable theatrical evening.
Photographs courtesy of MSMT
LETTIN' THE GOOD TIMES ROLL played two sold out performances at MSMT's Pickard Theater on the Monday Concert Series on July 1, 20198. The next Monday Concert Series offering is THE MUSI OF Andrew Lloyd Webber, July 29 and August 12. www.msmt.org