Mary Wilson and the Four Tops: Odd and singers reconcile
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter December 24, 2013 12:44PM
Mary Wilson sings with the Four Tops at the Harris Theater. | Michael Brosilow
‘MARY WILSON’S HOLIDAY
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and Jan. 2-5; 3 p.m. Saturday and Jan. 4; 7 p.m. Dec. 31
Where: Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph
Info: (312) 334-7777; ticketmaster.com
Updated: December 24, 2013 6:18PM
No, that’s not what I’ve been wishing for under the Christmas tree.
It is what you get when you see the lovingly odd “Mary Wilson Holiday Spectacular Featuring Special Guests the Four Tops” that opened Monday and runs through Jan. 5 (dark Dec. 25 and Jan. 1) at the Harris Theater on the north edge of Millennium Park.
The Four Tops are celebrating their 60th anniversary in 2014, although Abdul “Duke” Fakir is the only original member still living. His 78th birthday isThursday.
Wilson’s story is a little more complicated.
In 1959 she co-founded the Detroit-based Primettes with Diana Ross, the group that became the Supremes. I saw Ross headline the Supremes’ 2000 “reunion tour” in Rosemont, the first time the Supremes had sung together since Ross left in 1970. Except Wilson and Cindy Birdsong (who replaced the late Florence Ballard) were not part of the tour because of alleged financial disagreements with the Ross camp.
Wilson forges on and was proud to strut her stuff in this 90-minute holiday revue, where polished Vegas meets a PBS pledge special; thus the tickets start at $59.99. She covered the Supremes’ hits with a big-screen backdrop of vintage album covers and photo sessions that included Ross. Both acts were backed by a 12-piece band.
Wilson, who was proud to say she is 691/2, sang the classics “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Stop! In the Name of Love” in a lower register than the originals. She is now suited better as a cabaret singer, evident in the ease in which she approached “Baby Love,” the sultry Bette Midler take of “Do You Wanna Dance?’’ and “I’m Changing,” which Jennifer Hudson popularized in “Dreamgirls.” Wilson was quick to point out the “Dreamgirls” story is not about the Supremes because, again, the group didn’t get royalties.
The Christmas material will remain throughout the duration of the revue’s run. The most memorable holiday number is Wilson and Fakir dueting on the Johnny Mercer-Margaret Whiting hit “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” supported by Wilson’s four background singers and the other Tops, who include Lawrence “Roquel” Payton Jr., the son of original second tenor Lawrence Payton. The Tops also chip in to sing Christmas carols during Wilson’s myriad of costume changes that would humble Elton John.
There is no intermission, and a nice segue are the Chicago choirs that perform after the Tops opening set. Walt Whitman’s Soul Children of Chicago tore the roof of the beautiful theater with a rock-jubilee take of “Joy to the World.” Other notable choirs scheduled to appear are Calvin Bridges & Friends at the 3 p.m. Dec. 28 show and Dr. Issac Whittmon & the Greater Metropolitan Church choir, which is featured on all January dates except for 3 p.m. Jan. 4. Whittmon was nominated for a 1977 Grammy for his collaboration with James Cleveland, Albertina Walker, Jessy Dixon, Shirley Caesar and others.
The opening night fans weren’t dancing in the cold streets, but they were dancing in the aisles to the Tops, who covered their ample songbook in snappy, fast-paced style. The audience knew the choreography and spins as well as the material: “Baby, I Need Your Lovin’,” the anthem “Bernadette,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got).” The Tops’ secret weapon is lead singer Harold “Spike” Deleon, whose baritone range resembles original lead singer Levi Stubbs. He also looks like a young Marvin Gaye under the spotlight in his sequined black tuxedo. The Tops roots were in jazz harmonies, and they stretched out for a scat version of “In the Still of the Night” (think Lambert, Hendricks and Ross) and even included that holiday classic “MacArthur Park,” their 1969 Motown single about a cake (maybe a fruitcake?) left out too long in the rain. “The Mary Wilson Holiday Spectacular” can work if you leave any holiday hipster attitudes at home.