Highly Recommended **** As we celebrate the 40th Anniversary season of Black Ensemble Theater with them, we are able to revisit some of the hits of their history. For some, a trip down memory lane, and for others a whole new experience, as they learn about the music and the people who brought that music to our lives. The current trip down memory lane is “The Jackie Wilson Story”, written and directed by Ms Jackie Taylor. We saw the first production of this show detailing the life of Mr. Wilson back in 2000 and the remount in 2011 . There was also a national tour of the production which ended its journey on the stage of The Apollo Theater in New York (where Mr. Wilson had been a starring light). There are many who say he was one of the greatest entertainers of our time. In watching the production and the story that Ms Taylor has written, one gets the sense that had he lived a little different lifestyle, he may have created even more for posterity.
The story opens, a sit did on the past with two nurses attending to a man in a hospital bed, attached to several life support systems. The man is Jackie Wilson, who has been in a coma for a while. The nurses, one young, the other older talk about whether he will ever come alive again, or even if he knows what is happening around him. We then go back in time and watch the story unfold. The book is probably not the best that Ms. Taylor has brought to her stage, but is open and honest about the man, his drinking, drugs, womanizing and eventually the fights he had with those who ran the record business back in those days. Playing the role of Jackie Wilson is the incredible Kevin Roston,Jr. He brings a great vocal range, high energy and a dazzling personality to the role and judging from the reaction the ladies in the audience expressed, enormous sexuality. He nailed the role! He was great the last time, but, truly exceeded my expectations and outdid himself. Worth the price of the ticket just to watch him do “Lonely Teardrops”.
Other cast members in this sterling production are: Melanie McCullough (his wife, Frida), Kora Green (his mother Eliza), Rueben D. Echoles (Jackie’s best friend BB), Kylah Williams, Direoce Junirs, Kyle Smith, Brandon Eddins, Dennis Dent, Ekia Thomas and Vincent Jordan. In the new production, we are also treated to the addition of Frankie Lymon’s “Goodie Goodie” as done by Kyle Smith as well as the Crystals (Jessica Seals, Ekia Thomas and Kylah Frye) doing “Dah Do Run Run”.
The music in this show is very memorable, “Little Bitty Pretty One”, “Tweedle Dee”, “Doggin Me Around”, “To Be Loved”, “Danny Boy” (another wonderful interpretation by Roston, Jr. that brought a tear to my eye) and of course, “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher”. Ms. Taylor’s direction and choreography is simple and while they are still learning to use the stage in their new theater, I will never knock their sets- they are all about the music and the story. That is why people flock to Black Ensemble. This is what Ms. Taylor has built the theater on; great talent bringing great music to the audiences that enjoy the music. The costumes (Ruthanne Swanson) are glitzy, the lighting (Denise Karczewski), the sound/projections( Aaron Quick) and the music and its director led by Robert Reddrick, who does a great drum solo, makes this a show that is worth seeing , even a second time.
“The Jackie Wilson Story” will continue at Black Ensemble Theater thru September 4th with performances as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m. running time 2 hours twenty-five minutes with a 5 minute intermission
Tickets range from $55- $65* and can be purchased at the box office (the theater is located at 4450 N. Clark Street, between Montrose and Sunnyside), by calling 773769-4451 or online at www.blackensemble.org
- 10% discount for seniors, students and groups.
There is street parking in the neighborhood as well as enclosed valet parking in the garage adjacent to the theater ($10). We enjoyed a delightful dinner around the corner at Andies on Montrose (1467) where they made sure we were fed on time to make our curtain. Nice menu, wonderful flavors and a super value.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Jackie Wilson Story”