Steppenwolf Theatre Presents LINDEWE Review – Sweet Song ,with a Side of Story

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Anyone who thinks they don’t love a capella music has likely never heard a Ladysmith Black Mambazo serenade, is this writer’s thought, both before and after hearing and seeing LINDEWE.  Now, nine men are joined by a diminutive songstress with oversized vocal talent and range, Nondumiso Tembe in the title role.

Steppenwolf Theatre LINDIWE
Pictured (center) Nondumiso Tembe (Lindiwe) with Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Steppenwolf Theatre LINDIWE
Pictured (foreground) Nondumiso Tembe (Lindiwe) with (background) Buddy Fambro (Guitarist) and Frank Russell (Band Leader and Bassist) with Ladysmith Black Mambazo

They make their entrance through the aisles, with their ever soothing sound that saturates the performance space with good vibes of peace and joy.  Tembe’s diva power then puts pizzazz in both Chicago Blues music standards and solos emerging from the surrounds of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s sound.  To this writer’s ears, she has the kind of vocal power and charisma that would telegraph to the bleachers of Wrigley Field.

Steppenwolf Theatre Feels Like A Concert Venue

Chicago Blues and South African music both?  Yes, there is a story line that weaves it all together. Or, perhaps this writer can clarify, that it is more accurately described as sort of a story.  With a slow start in the style of an African storyteller, we meet Lindewe as she meets the love of her life, Adam, played by Erik Hellman.  Their relationship is challenged by lingering apartheid, US immigration cruelty, cultural mores, professional ambition tugging them apart, and most of all, a rather significant geographic challenge.  They fight a lot.  Most of the play and quasi-fable is detailing the purgatory terrain of their unworkable relationship.

Steppenwolf Theatre LINDIWE
Pictured Nondumiso Tembe (Lindiwe)
Steppenwolf Theatre LINDIWE
Pictured (L to R) Jennifer Engstrom (Clarisse), Erik Hellman (Adam), ensemble member Yasen Peyankov (Keeper), Nondumiso Tembe (Lindiwe) and Cedric Young (Mkhulu) with Ladysmith Black Mambazo

In this writer’s view, the first act has relatively more zip because of the Groundhog’s Day rewind and replay given atomic jolts with lighting design (Lighting Design: Marcus Doshi), and more, the total charm of first seeing hyper-masculine Yasen Peyankov wearing something that’s a cross between a tutu and a granny skirt (Costume Design:  Kärin Kopischke).

If you like the Steppenwolf plays that give deep dives into character, topical themes and story, this might not be your top pick.  If you want a lighter salad course alternative from such fare, put this one on your short list.  If you enjoy Ladysmith Black Mambazo  a lot, that in itself is worth coming back to your seat after intermission.   SPOILER ALERT:  You too might find the closer song of diva Tembe belting out Sweet Home Chicago, the moment for which you had been waiting.

Steppenwolf Theatre LINDIWE
Pictured (foreground) Nondumiso Tembe (Lindiwe), (background) Erik Hellman (Adam), Jennifer Engstrom (Clarisse) and Cedric Young (Mkhulu) with Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Steppenwolf Theatre LINDIWE
Pictured (L to R) Nondumiso Tembe (Lindiwe) and Sibongiseni Shabalala (member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo)
Steppenwolf Theatre LINDIWE
Pictured (L to R) Nondumiso Tembe (Lindiwe) and Erik Hellman (Adam)
Steppenwolf Theatre LINDIWE
Pictured (foreground) Nondumiso Tembe (Lindiwe) and (background) Erik Hellman (Adam)
Steppenwolf Theatre LINDIWE
Pictured (foreground) Nondumiso Tembe (Lindiwe) with (background) Buddy Fambro (Guitarist) and Frank Russell (Band Leader and Bassist) with Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Steppenwolf Theatre LINDIWE
Pictured (L to R) Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Erik Hellman (Adam) and Nondumiso Tembe (Lindiwe)

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

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CAST

Nondumiso Tembe (Avengers: Age of Ultron; True Blood) making her Chicago debut. Ensemble member Yasen Peyankov (Keeper), Jennifer Engstrom (Clarisse), Erik Hellman (Adam), and Cedric Young (Mkhulu)

CREATIVE

Collette Pollard (Scenic Design), Karin Kopischke (Costume Design), Marcus Doshi (Lighting Design), Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (Sound Design), Gigi Buffington (Company Voice and Text Coach) and Mlondolozi Zondi (South African Cultural Consultant). Additional credits include Laura D. Glenn (Stage Manager), Jacky Saldana (Assistant Stage Manager), JC Clementz (Casting Director) and Hallie Gordon (Artistic Producer).

When:

Through January 5, 2020

Where

Downstairs Theatre
1650 N Halsted St

Tickets

$20+

For full price tickets and ticket availability visit Steppenwolf Theatre website or by calling 312-335-1650

Check for Half-Price Deals from Hot Tix:

Photos by Michael Brosilow

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

Amy Munice

About the Author:

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES BY AMY MUNICE.

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