It's All-Right To Have A Good Time The Story of Curtis Mayfield Review - The Chicago Sound Exposed

Cecil Jones as Curtis Mayfield

It’s All-Right To Have A Good Time The Story of Curtis Mayfield (written and co-directed by  Jackie Taylor) opens with an older, paralyzed Curtis (Reginald E. Torian Sr.) explaining how it is that he can still sing.  And in doing so, it becomes obvious that this older, physically damaged performer is far from being a bitter man. 

Brian Nelson, David Simmons, Donald Craig Manuel, Reginald E. Torian Sr., and Cecil Jones

I have been lucky enough now to have seen several Black Ensemble Theater productions and I can tell you that what they do well, they do very well.  From their very impressive ensemble to their highly polished house band, I venture to say that their Uptown stage regularly has more talent on it than the usual Broadway in Chicago event.  Add to this mixture the talented Reginald E. Torian Sr. (who actually replaced Curtis Mayfield when he left the Impressions) and you have all the ingredients for a runaway hit. 

Mark J. P. Hood, Lawrence Williams, Cecil Jones, and Ereatha Star McCullough

If only they did as well with storytelling.  The pacing here, especially in the first act, leaves much to be desired.  Worse, The Story of Curtis Mayfield does not actually tell much about Curtis Mayfield’s actual life.  Instead the focus is on the business side of things where he actually did rather well.  With the exception of one rather contrived scene addressing his work in the civil rights movement, there just is not much in terms of story to draw the viewer in.  This clearly is a musical that works best when it plays music.

Donal Craig Manuel, Cecil Jones, and Brian Nelson

Luckily for the viewer then, almost the entire second act does just that with number after number highlighting just how prolific an artist he was.   Not only did Curtis strike gold as a singer, he also played an innovative guitar and wrote hits for artists such as Aretha Franklin and Jimmy Butler.  Curtis Mayfield also penned the soundtrack to the classic blaxploitation film Super Fly.  The Black Ensemble Theater is able to recreate all of this (especially the excesses of the movie Super Fly) as well as anything you can expect to see this side of Vegas.  Also worth praising is Ann N. Davis’ set design which uses a whole lot of brown to create one smooth ‘70s infused stage. 

All in all, The Story of Curtis Mayfield is a flawed but ultimately entertaining piece of work.  You do not have to be a fan or even familiar with Curtis Mayfield to find that it is definitely all-right to have a good time here.

Bottom Line:  It’s All-Right To Have A Good Time The Story of Curtis Mayfield is recommended.  The first act misfires frequently, but the play is saved by a rollicking second half.  The Black Ensemble Theater is located at 4450 N. Clark Street.  Performances are on Wednesday and Thursday (7:30 p.m.) as well as Friday (8 p.m.), Saturday (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.), and Sunday (3 p.m.).  Tickets range from $55 to $65 and can be bought online at or by calling (773) 769-4451.  Valet parking is available.  To get more information about theater in Chicago. 

Photos by:  Danny Nicholas      

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