In singer Curtis Mayfield's song "It's Alright," he croons, "It's all right/Have a good time/'Cause it's all right," and the Black Ensemble Theater audience sure did have a good time on Sat., Jan. 25.
"Jackie Taylor's It's All-Right to Have a Good Time: The Story of Curtis Mayfield" originally previewed on Sat., Sept. 14. After breaking box office records at the Black Ensemble Theater, located at 4450 N. Clark St., in Chicago, the play has been extended to Sun., March 30. Showtimes are Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; and Sun., 3 p.m.
This is not a show to be missed. Whether you're familiar with Curtis Mayfield or not, if you're a fan of R&B/soul; great acting; smooth dance moves; and a clean, smart performance, this play has it all.
Reginald E. Torian Sr., a real-life singer from the group The Impressions, was the first actor that audience members laid eyes on. As happy as fans may have been to see him, there was a melancholy feeling watching Torian Sr., lay flat on an upright bed, hands firmly resting at his side, feet unmoving. He played the role of Older Curtis, after the tragic lighting scaffold accident on Aug. 13, 1990, at Windgate Field in Brooklyn, N.Y.
But within a couple of minutes of Older Curtis being introduced, the audience was introduced to Young Curtis (played by Cecil Jones). The story of Mayfield's rise to fame went from a Chattanooga, Tenn., group called The Roosters (who later changed their name to The Impressions) to a group breakup. There was initially beef between the group when management decided to name their first single Jerry Butler & The Impressions. Even when Jerry Butler (played by Lawrence Williams) tried to defend himself and say he had no idea he was being highlighted in the group, he was met with skepticism from the rest of the members. Seeing signs and announcements that just said "Jerry Butler" without mentioning the rest of The Impressions didn't help, and finally Jerry Butler went solo.
Curtis, who was a resident of Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago, wanted to head back to his hometown. Two group members (and brothers) Richard Brooks and Arthur Brooks rebelled against the idea, reminding Curtis that he was the new member of the group and couldn't make those kinds of decisions. The other two members -- Fred Cash (played by Brian Nelson) and Sam Gooden (played by Donald Craig Manuel) -- saw things a little differently and decided to join Curtis' return to the City of Big Shoulders.
Returning home wasn't a mistake for any of them. They made countless hits and did well. However, Curtis decided to go solo himself but not before performing a charity event that raised over $300,000 for a young black boy who was killed for a race crime.
Majority of the play chronicled Mayfield's hits for himself and other artists, including his former group member Jerry Butler, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and The Staple Singers. Some of the most impressive moments were a flirty duet for "Let's Do It Again" with actress Ereatha Star McCoullough and Lawrence Williams, and the '70s song/dance performance to the "Superfly Medley" ("Superfly," "Pusherman" and "Freddie's Dead") with the cast. Actress Alanna Taylor sang a beautiful version of Aretha Franklin's "Something He Can Feel," too. However, all of the musical performances -- and the band -- were an outstanding example of how carefully the cast was picked. Every last one of them wow'd the crowd with their voices.
One of the most heartfelt scenes in the play involved Torian Sr., singing "I'm So Proud" to his wife Altheida Mayfield (played by Katrina D. Richardson), who stood by his side during and after his accident, taking care of him and always being there for him mentally and physically. It was a beautiful way to give homage to one of the people who made Curtis Mayfield successful when he wasn't in a studio. Obviously he was great at picking the right woman, too.
The only competition for the cast's singing, acting and dancing was a small section of the crowd who clapped and lip-synched to almost every song. At one point, two ladies from the audience in the front row couldn't help themselves. They cheered the cast on, clapped and yelped -- not enough to distract the cast but enough to show they were diehard Curtis Mayfield fans.
The fashion was fun to watch as well. Out of all the dresses, suits (including the peach and white outfit actor Mark J.P. Hood wore during the "Superfly" scene), hat and heels, the brown-patterned shoes that Older Jerry Butler (played by David Simmons) wore outdid everyone else. Hands down, those shoes should win a best-dressed award. Flawless.
Black Ensemble Theater's "'The Marvin Gaye Story: Don't Talk About My Father Because God Is My Friend'" in 2012 was already proof of how professional and talented the theater's performances are. "The Story of Curtis Mayfield" is yet another example of a job well done.
The only con in the entire play was the band was a bit too loud during a performance at the beginning of the play, but after that one song, the volume was fixed. Other than that, no complaints other than being sad that the play was over and wanting to see it again.
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