Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“All In Love Is Fair”

Recommended  For many years, we have traveled  to Black Ensemble Theater to watch the new talent that Jackie Taylor finds or develops as well as the story-lines she creates using some of our favorite pop songs. Many of her stories are “biographical musicals” where she takes a singer or a group and tells “their” story using the music that they created- some are a mixture of songs that are inserted into a story, or perhaps a selection of songs that lead Ms Taylor to write a story utilizing the talent she has assembled to create a musical evening of entertainment. In many cases, this could work as a revue with no story, just 8- 13 very talented singers doing 20 popular songs, the way they were meant to be presented- with lots of heart and soul, but Jackie wants a complete package and prefers to be theater over cabaret, so a full story is created with limited sets and props, wonderful costumes, a great  group of musicians and a theater where everyone can see all of the action.

Her latest production, “All In Love Is Fair” uses the works of Luther Vandross with additional material by Alan and Marilyn Bergman,Evan MacColl,Kris Kristofferson and many others to illustrate the importance that love plays in our lives. The story takes place in a small town in Illinois named Love. This is a small town with many characters led by Ms Katie ( a divine performance by Katrina V. Miller), the town’s matriarch who is in a relationship with the mailman, Lee ( deftly handled by Lyle Miller) who wants to marry her, but she is not ready for her third walk down the aisle. Ms Katie knows every one’s business in this little town and it appears no one is safe from her butting in! There are several other “couples of note”-  Zeland ( a charming character handled to perfection by Zachary Boyd, he with the powerful voice) and his wife of fifty years, Rena ( handsomely played by Rhonda Preston, who as always, gives a solid performance). They are celebrating 50 years of wedded bliss as they did it their way.

Another couple, a young couple played by Dawn Bless Comer ( Diedra) and Daryl D. Brooks (Cortez), after three months of constant battling are about to split up,Venie ( Vasily Deris, who has a great voice and for a big man moves really well) and his “friend” Cara ( once again, a solid performance by Carrie) come from two different worlds ( African American and Greek) but unknowingly love is building for them as well. From there we go to a major triangle.  Lewis ( Lawrence Williams who just keeps wowing me with his vocal range) is engaged to Athena ( the darling Aeriel Williams) but having a “thing” with Jenean (the incredible Jenny Lamb who just keeps maturing in the roles she takes on) who was Athena’s enemy in high school and now works with Lawrence. The other two characters in the play are  Dorian ( solidly handled by Dwight Neal) the bartender manager of the local club, Diversity, where much of the action takes place and  Doug ( the always reliable Donald Barnes) a local who has become very successful, but is alone and on the road a great deal. As you might suspect, he has some secrets of his own.

During this 2 1/2 hour show , with a 15 minute intermission, and 20 fabulous songs, we get to watch these characters deal with the ups and downs of life; from mixed relationships of white and black, rich versus poor and even man with man in small town America. As it turns out, as in most of Ms Taylor’s non-biographical stories, everyone ends up with the person they should be withand those that do not end up where they had hoped to be, end up wiser than they were before. As I said earlier, we didn’t need a story in order to get our money’s worth! 20 songs performed by this cast is well worth the price of a ticket, but Jackie Taylor always wants her audiences to head home witha story to cling to as well as a memorable theater experience. With Black Ensemble Theater, you can count on it!

“All In Love Is Fair” will continue at the BET located at 4520 N. Beacon, just south of Wilson, 1 block west of Clark Street through May 8th with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $45-$47.50 ( a lot of show for this low price) and can be purchased by calling 773-769-4451 or visiting www.blackensemble.org

The theater is reachable by public transportation, there is parking in the area, or you can valet park on the premise for $11.

There is a lot of excitement with this company as they get nearer to the grand opening of their new facility just a block and a half away- something that Ms Taylor has been working toward for many years and in speaking with the company members who have graced her stage over the years, each one of them, old and new, cannot wait for that special moment in which her dream ( as well as all those members of BET) will be a reality.                      

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