Note: This entry was originally published by the National African-American Entertainment Examiner.
Do the twist. Now the watusi. Maybe mix in "stomp the roach" or the mashed potato dance. Some know the dances. Others don't. And for the younger crowd, many of the '60s songs may be new to the ears. But Black Ensemble Theater's "Chicago's Golden Soul" musical that premiered on Sun., Feb. 9, is entertainment for all ages.
A cast of 10 (Rob Love, Alanna Taylor, Katrina Richard, David L. Simmons, Ta-Tynisa Wilson, Brian Nelson, Cecil Jones, Christina D. Harper, Lawrence Williams and Byron Willis) team up to perform songs, dances and introduce (or remind) audience members to Chicago's soul from neighborhood areas like Cabrini Green.
Attendees who have already seen "The Story of Curtis Mayfield" won't be surprised at how much homage is paid to the artist for writing songs that made other artists famous, as well as the impact The Impressions left on nationwide soul. Other artists highlighted in the play include Etta James, Alvin Cash, the Chi-Lites, Billy Stewart, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, Major Lance, Betty Everett and Barbara Aklin.
Actor Cecil Jones nailed his role as Curtis Mayfield in "The Story of Curtis Mayfield" play, and in this one, he continues with this same role but shines light on Mayfield's favorite song, which is not popular songs like "Freddie's Dead," "Superfly" or "Pusherman." It did indeed involve women circling him and plenty of flirting. (No spoilers. Guess what song it was in the comment section below.) If you liked the other play, it's fun seeing an extended version of him in this one, too.
However, this isn't a play with a beginning, middle and end plot. It's music education for R&B's older era.
It's always impressive to hear the powerful voices of the cast, but watching their performances, the sparkly dresses and other fashion of the era are a close second. And with some songs, the dancing out-shined the singing (specifically the whole cast dancing to "Go Go Gorilla," Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1000 Dances" and Williams hamming it up during Billy Stewart's "Summertime") and was met with thunderous applause.
At the end of the play, the cast sat in a half-moon shape around the stage and performed more songs encouraging audience members to sing along to the ones they knew. Watching the audience's reaction to their favorite childhood performances was as amusing as the actors.
Outside of a general take on Etta James, the audience won't be educated on anything much deeper than the artists' music resume but for those looking to enjoy a concert, this is the perfect go-to evening event.
Click here for showtimes and dates.
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