Black Ensemble Theater has thrilled and educated audiences in Chicago for over 30 years. Their “mission” is to eradicate racism and its devastating effects upon society through the arts”. This is something that they have succeeded at. In fact, it is quite evident when one attends one of their productions in their new , modern facility on Clark Street, as when we look around, we see almost as many White audience members as Black . The stories that are told at Black Ensemble,written by its founder, Ms Jackie Taylor and many by her associate Director, Rueben D. Echoles, are biographies based on the people and their music. While the scripts are factual, many of them are just ways to tie the music together. While they have improved over the years, it is not the story that brings the crowds to Clark and Sunnyside, it is the shining talents and the music they bring to the stage. Every production is like being invited to a concert with a backstage pass.
For those of you who are regulars at Black Ensemble, you know that this is an audience participation venue- yes, they clap their hands, stamp their feet, yell out a “you go girl” , or other sayings, but guess what, they never disturb the other audience members, In fact, one might say that the audience at a Black Ensemble Theater production is in fat a major part of the production- the actors have grown to expect the raw enthusiasm and they love it! So do I! I have always said that theater is to be entertained and educated and Black Ensemble does just that.
Their current, open ended production, is the story of Curtis Mayfield- “It’s All-Right To Have a Good Time” and I must tell you this is 2 1/2 hours of great “Chicago ” music. A lot of audience members knew his music- “He Will Break Your Heart”, “It’s All-Right”, “I’m So Proud” and of course “Amen”. In all, over 17 songs are performed in this solid production that tells the story from Mayfield’s perspective starting with him still being able to create music after becoming paralyzed from the neck down. As long as he could sing , he could create music and his attitude was, do not think of the things you cannot do, but instead , think of the things you can do- and then do them! Playing the role of the elder Curtis Mayfield is Reginald E. Torian,Sr. who by the way, was the replacement for Mr. Mayfield in the group known as The Impressions ( which he started as a young man) and as we enter the past through flashbacks, Cecil Jones takes on the role- both men are fantastic singers and performers with Mr. Torian having the harder role of being in a wheelchair or bed , moving only his head.
Directed by Ms Taylor and Daryl D. Brooks with some strong choreography and the wonderful talent that take son the ensemble roles, Black Ensemble still uses less set pieces than any other theater, but they are learning how to utilize their new stage and surroundings better than the y first did. They are all about the music and the story telling and no one does it better.
Curtis Mayfield was a product of Cabrini Green- you know, that project where you were told to roll up your windows when driving on Division during a hot August day. Many positive things came out of the projects as well as the gangs we heard about, but try to imagine having his early life and bringing himself out of it by being creative and talented and willing to work for success. He influenced our music, not just in the USA, but internationally. His music was used in Movies and sung by many others , so it is not just entertainment, it is also a part of the cultural history of the times ( 1960’s thru 1990’s) and will live on for many years to come.
The music, as always is under the direction of Robert Reddrick ( Drums), Danny O’Connor ( Bass), Herbert Walker (Guitar), Justin Dillard (keyboards), Paul Howard (trumpet), Bill McFarland (Trombone) and Dudley Owen (Saxaphone)- as always, they make the music come to life! The ensemble is made up of: David Simmons, Lawrence Williams,Jos N. Banks, Mr. Echoles who does quite a dance number in the “Superfly medly),Christine D.Harper, Casey Hayes, Mark J.P. Hood, Donald Craig Manuel, Ereatha Star McCullough, Brian Nelson, Ktrina D. Richardson and Alanna Taylor- all wonderful, high energy performers who love what they do and it shows!
Black Ensemble Theater is located at 4450 N. Clark Street and has valet ( indoor) parking available as well as street parking ( some metered, some not). This production is what they call “open End”, so as long as the public wants to see it, it will stay open until at least December when they open their next show. The performance schedule is as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m.
Tickets are $55-$65 and available at the box office, by phone at 773-769-4451 or online at www.blackensembletheater.com
You can also purchase a five play card is a combo plan where one person can see five plays, or different combinations can be used- matinee prices are $247.50 , full use, $292.50, so you save money as well.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchiacgo.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “It’s All-Right To Have a Good Time”