Don't Make Me Over
Black Ensemble Theater. By Jackie Taylor. Dir. Taylor. With Jeniel M. Smith, Paulette Bruce, Carrie, Alexis J. Rogers.
Did you know that Dionne Warwick’s last name was originally spelled Warrick before a spelling error stuck? Did you know Leontyne Price is Warwick’s cousin? Did you know the pop star once actually considered giving up her career? If such did-you-know morsels whet your appetite, BET’s latest tribute to an African-American diva may satisfy. If not, well, Ms. Warwick said it best: Walk on by. Don’t Make Me Over fills the same (apparently unbreakable) mold as BET’s salutes to Etta James and Nina Simone: Several women embody the star’s different ages or personalities (here, three actors play feisty, soulful and soul-searching Dionnes), while an emcee leads us through the singer’s life.
Taylor’s too-talky tribute packs the mouths of its characters, like Burt Bacharach, with quasi-history-lesson speak. Whereas the James and Simone tributes had fun with their subjects and, more importantly, put the music first, here Taylor insists on such reverential distance that, despite all the info tidbits, we end up knowing (or caring) precious little about Warwick. Even the star’s psychic-friends excursion is quickly justified as simply a good-paying job. (Huh?) The Dionnes (especially Rogers) can belt a note, and we briefly perk up at standards like “I Say a Little Prayer.” But with just-adequate vocals, these 20-some tunes sound like pale-imitation covers that leave us longing for the real thing.—Novid Parsi