That’s Entertainment! Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater


By entertainment, I am definitely not referring to the near awful new Fantastic Four movie. Great visuals but dialogue written by an illiterate 4th grader.

The Black Ensemble Theater was founded thirty years ago by a visionary named Jackie Taylor. It was discovered by our family more than 10 years ago. We have been to at least a half dozen productions, all highly entertaining. However last Saturday was the first time in a few years.

The theater is in a neighborhood that was once run down but is definitely up and coming. It is relatively small with 6 rows along 3 sides of a rectangle with the stage in front. The band sits behind or sometimes above the stage. If you are in the first row there is a reasonable chance that you will be interacting with one or more performers. Typically each production has a theme and tells a story connecting a string of songs and dancing. We have seen productions about Jackie Wilson, gospel great Mahalia Jackson, Do Wop and Chicago Golden Soul. Needless to say the themes are about African American musical artists. Needless to say there is a bevy of fine, and I do mean fine, music to explore.

The Stax record label based in Memphis was the focus of this production. I pay little attention to what label music comes from so I found it interesting to hear the story of one that produced some great artists. From 1960-1975 Stax was the alternative to and antithesis to Motown. The music was often more raw, heavy on the horns. The more famous artists to make records at Stax included the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and Booker T and The MGs. Rufus Thomas was a name I had not heard. His songs were often about new dances including the Funky Chicken.

My absolute favorite Stax artists were Sam and Dave. Sam and Dave. Those of you who know Soul Man only because it was covered by the Blues Brothers are missing a life enhancing experience. Sam Moore and Dave Prater are considered by most to be the greatest of all soul duos.  This wasn’t even their best song. You MUST listen to Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “You Got Me Hummin’,” “Soothe Me” and “I Thank You.” Then and only then experience “When Something is Wrong with My Baby”. You will never be the same. According to the show, this duo was as acrimonious off stage as they were dynamic on stage. Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter wrote most of their Stax hits. Sadly for us, they had little success at other labels.

The audiences at the BES have been part of the treat.  A mix of African American and us white folk. With the encouragement of the performers the audience reacts with clapping, as well as hoots and hollerin’.  At least a part does. I will let you guess which part.

The quality of the singing and characterizations were high. The dancing is energetic. It was hard not to have a very good time.

If you are ever coming to Chicago you must check out this gem of Chicago Theater. Let me know when you are going. I will tag along.

About 48facets
What you read is what you get.

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