Monday December 11th 2017

“My Brother’s Keeper- The Story of the Nicholas Brothers”

TNB-1x1-010317-2Highly Recommended ***** As many of you know, this is Black History Month, and many of our theaters have brought in or produced plays to tie in with this. One of our theater’s- Black Ensemble Theater is an all  year “Black History”learning center. Yes,  since 1976,Jackie Taylor and her ensemble have been bringing to their stage history of Black musicians and singers, told thru a story where either her or another ensemble member has researched and put together the “book”. While the stories are not always the best written, they are filled with facts and tie in with the music that is presented to complete the story.

Their current production is entitled “My Brother’s Keeper- The Story Of The Nicholas Brothers”. Let’s face it. How many of you even know who these men were? Today’s audience which was almost sold out (despite it being a perfect Spring day in February), probably was at 50%. They were in fact the most legendary dance team in history. Harold (Rueben Echoles truly gets to strut his stuff in this amazing saga that he wrote and directed along with playing a major role) and Fayard (Rashawn Thompson , who continues to show us his wide range of talent. Most of us know his dulcet tones as a singer, but in this one- can he dance!) broke through the color barrier and became stars on stage and film. Back in the 30’s and 40’s they were ranks as the BEST dance team in history with their sparkling, dynamic, high-flying numbers. This story takes us into the story of who they are, their inspiration, their desires, their love lives and their ups and down. This is a World Premiere (as are most of the Black Ensemble shows that are written for their theater).be2

The story goes back to their infancy and early childhood as their mother, Viola (played with heart and soul by Shari Addison) narrates the early years and how she met their father, Ulysses ( Dwight Neal). The boys become dancers and take the spotlight from their parents who give up what they were doing to manage their sons. There is also a sister (who doesn’t do well with dancing) played by Katherine Thomas. We go on to meet the women they wed- Jessica Seals as Geri and Taylay Thomas as Dorothy Dandridge (yes! THE Dorothy Dandridge). We go through their marriages, children, divorces, escape to Paris to entertain during the times where America did not desire African-American performers, and all the other periods of their lives.

be5This is a sterling production filled with many of our favorite songs like “Minnie The Moocher” (Vincent Jordan does one smooth Cab Calloway). Other ensemble members: Dennis Dent, Paige Hauer, Devin Joyner, Linnea Norwood, William Rowland, Henri Slater and Joan Ruffin. This is a very talented group of performers. If you like TAP, you will find this the best for your taste. In fact, the final song is performed with the entire cast hitting the floor. Other tunes you will recall: “Come Rain of Come Shine”, “From This Moment On”, “The Best Is Yet To Come”, “I’ve Got Rhythm” “Take The A Train”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and a sterling rendition of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.  Just seeing the list makes my mouth water, and wait. there is more!

The music, as always is under the direction of Robert Reddrick and his musicians who are always at the top of their game. There are a few changes at Black Ensemble for this production. How about a curtain? Yes, instead of th eopen stage, we have a great red velvet curtain that opens and closes, just like a downtown theater. It is very effective in this production and might make sense to retian. Did I mention that Echoles also did the choreography? Does this genius ever sleep? Those who know him, know that he has been trained by Jackie Taylor herself, so his energy and enthusiasm stands to reason. There are no true sets at Black Ensemble as the action we see and hear on the stage is why the people come to sit in the comfy seats. But, a tip of the hat to Denise Karczewski for the elevations, stairs and slides that allow for the slick dance numbers to take our breath away. Her lighting also played into the super effects. Aaron Quick’s sound and projections. The costumes are great (they forgot to mention who did all this work- I doubt that these were in the actors personal closets).

Yes, this is another solid production by this talented ensemble. As I said earlier, the script doesn’t have to be a literary diamond at this theater. It does have to be accurate in its history and the music and dance be1have to be up to the high standards that Ms Taylor set decades ago. This one is!!!

“My Brother’s Keeper” will continue at The Black Ensemble Theater, located at 4450 N. Clark Street in Chicago (just north of Montrose Ave) through March 26th with performances as follows:

be3Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  3  and 8 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

Running time 2 hours-twenty- minutes with a 15 minute intermission

Tickets are $55 or $65 depending on performance day and students and seniors get a 10% discount.

To order tickets call the box office at 773-769-4451 or visit www.blackensemble.org

Street parking is plentiful and there is indoor valet parking adjacent to the theater building.be8

The sponsor of this production is Garrett Popcorn Shops and all tin sales will help Black Ensemble raise additional funds for their educational program.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “My Brother’s Keeper-The Story of the Nicholas Brothers”

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