Wednesday January 17th 2018

“Sammy: A Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.”

One thing that can be said for attending a production at Black Ensemble Cultural Center/Theater: you always leave with a smile on your face and a song in your heart! Yes, there are times that the script is not one that makes you think about life, and there are even times when the musical numbers presented outshine the story, but we go to the Black Ensemble to be entertained and learn something, and we always get that! This season has been the “Dance Theater Season”, so it is fitting that they end it with the powerful story of “Mr. Wonderful” himself. “Sammy: A Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.”.

Written and directed by Daryl D. Brooks, “Sammy” is designed to tell us about his rise to stardom and the trials and tribulations that he met with as well as conquered. Sammy started as a little boy when his father and uncle used him as a show-stopper. This little tyke could dance into the hearts of every audience member and he became America’s sweetheart at a very early age. Sammy could sing as well as dance up a storm and as the years went by, we also learn of his ability to act. For those of my generation, he also was very good at doing imitations (not as solid as Frank Gorshin, but very controlled).

In Brook’s tribute, the entire ensemble of Black Ensemble comes forward bringing excerpts of his life and fame to light. From Vaudeville to his Vegas fame ( despite the barriers of race, which he overcame). We learn of his womanizing, his becoming a member of the “Rat Pack”, his triumphs, his losses, his accident ( he wrote a book called “Yes, I Can!” showing how he could beat the odds against anything in his path), his loss of love and his Broadway and film stardom. If you are a lover of tap dance, as I am, this show will amaze your senses. Rueben D. Nichols, who is quite the dancer himself has choreographed some amazing routines. He himself does his stuff and when Dwight Neal and Michael Adkins (who portrays Sammy, for the most part) join him, you are in for a treat.

There is another Sammy in the ensemble as well. Kenny Davis, who I believe was a member of the cast of “The Rat Pack” that played in town years ago, truly has the vocal sound of Mr. Davis! When he does “What Kind of Fool Am I”, chills will run up and down your spine ( they did on mine) and when he dons his hat for “Mr. Bojangles” you might find a tear falling from your eye. He also does a rousing version of ” I’ve Gotta Be Me” ( another moment of heart warming memories for me). As always, a solid cast of performers makes the production one that you will remember and probably tell your friends about.

Nathan Cooper does a credible Frank Sinatra and Mark Yacullo handles Dean Martin with just the right touch. Other ensemble members who are there for big numbers and take on some side parts are: Brian Boller, Emily Hawkins ( who has quite a vocal range herself), Linnea Norwood (quite the dancer), the always reliable Rhonda Preston, Trequon Tate and Kyla Williams, who should be in line for a more major role in next season’s tribute to the “women of soul” ( I think she has earned it). These are strong performers who continue to bring us quality work.

As always, the music, under the direction of Robert Reddrick is masterfully done and the lighting (Denise Karczewski) and sound (Aaron Quick) is near perfect. Quick also did the projection design with some great photos of Him at may different times in his life. Of course having songs such as the above and “Fly Me To The Moon”, “Me and My Shadow”, “Hey There”, “Begin The Beguine”, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, “Sam’s Song”, “The Candy Man”, “Somethings Got To Give” and more is reason enough to buy a ticket and see this glorious tribute to a man who packed a lot of talent into a small body and left us far too early, Sammy Davis, Jr..

“Sammy: A Tribute To Sammy Davis ,Jr.” will continue at The Black Ensemble Cultural Center located at 4450 N. Clark Street thru January 21st, 2018 with performances as follows:

Thursdays 7:30 p.m.

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  3 p.m. (12/23, 12/30, 1/6, 1/13 and 1/20)

8 p.m.

Sundays   3 p.m. NO PERFORMANCE on 12/24 or 12/31 ( there is a special New Years Eve Party-check out www.blackensemble.org)

Tickets range from $55-$65 and are available at the box office, by calling 773-769-4451 or online at www.blackensemble.org

students and seniors get 10% discount

indoor valet parking is available

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Sammy: A Tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr.”.

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