Chicago theater audiences arein for something a little different at Black Ensemble Theater- not a show about a famous Black performer, but instead, a folk tale that tells a love story through creative dance and song, written, directed and choreographed by Rueben D. Echoles, protege of Jackie Taylor ( the founder and artistic director of Black Ensemble). Those of us who are regulars at BE have watched this young man truly mature as a performer and writer/director. Bravo!
Being the Holiday season, when almost every theater has changed over to a holiday production, Black Ensemble has opted to do something even more daring- a special folk take ( World Premiere) that will play on the off nights ( in rep with “The Curtis Mayfield Story”. “Once Upon A People” will run on Mondays and Tuesdays as well as Sundays at 7:30 p.m.. This allows the theater to be open and attract more audiences , exposing them to the magic contained within the walls of this wonderful theater, and at the same time allows more young talent opportunities to perform fora larger audience.
“Once Upon A Peole” might be considered a Mini-Operetta, as a story is told in music and dance ( which is why it is biiled as a “Dancesical). We journey to the mythical land of Mirah, where Prince Oba and Princess Erin take us on a mystical experience, teaching us that love is a major part of our existence and that forgiving is our greatest gift, even power.
This is truly a love story, well sung and with superior dance numbers- hypnotic in some cases music and heartwarming story told by performers who evidently love what they are doing. The show starts in the lobby as dancers begin to show us the movement and as they lead us into the theater, we are greeted by the locals of the village and watch as the royalty enters.
The cast is composed of many familiar faces ( and voices) from Black Ensemble: Alexis J. Rogers as Queen Imani ( who also worked on the musical arrangements and vocals with Mr. Echoles and Kelvin Roston ,Jr.,Eric Lewis as Prince Oba, Jazelle Morriss as Princess Erin, The poerful Donald Craig Manuel as King Babatunde, the evil, the incredible Claudia Alexandria Cunningham as Zahara and an ensemble that is highly energetic and talented, making this two hour performance one to remember.
It is now two years since they opened the new theater at 4450 N. Clark Street and it is fun to watch the theater mature as well as the performers. A trap door has been added to the stage and they know just how to use it. They are also using the second level stage area to better use than in earlier performances. The staff has become more theater savvy with better equipment and with this show the costumes (Evelynn Danner) and lighting (Denise Karczewski) as well as sound( Aaron Quick) and set (done by the A-team of Black Ensemble- I told you they are a tight “ensemble”) and of course the musicians under the solid direction of Robert Reddrick truly make it all it can be!
“Once Upon A People:A Dancesical” will continue through 12/29 with performances on Mondays,Tuesdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. at The Black Ensemble Cultural center located at 4450 N. Clark Street . Street parking available and indoor parking ($10) next door ( clear walk into the theater without ever going outside).
Tickets are $45 for adults and $30 for children under 12
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Once Upon A People: A Dancesical”