It was many years ago when a good friend told my I had to see “The Black Ensemble Theater” and I had every intention of doing that. But many years have gone by, long enough for the company to grow and the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center (which opened on November 18, 2011) to be fully functioning. The facility is able to accommodate larger-scale productions, bigger audiences and a wider range of educational programming. It is a beautiful building and the stage area is perfect for this performance. There was a warm and friendly atmosphere in the lobby with ticket takers and ushers chatting with guest and many people seeming to know one another.
I was there for the opening of the World Premiere of The Story of The Marvelettes Written by Reginald Williams and directed by Rueben D. Echoles. This is a “must see” production. Marvelous Marvelettes marks Reginald Williams’ professional debut as a produced playwright. Williams is a 2-year member of the Black Ensemble Theater’s Black Playwright Initiative (The BPI), which was created by Founder and Executive Director Jackie Taylor in 2005. This story itself is compelling but in Reginald Williams hands the audience is taken on a ride through history and shown a cautionary tale about reaching for the stars.
The story of five 16 year old girls from Inkster, Michigan who helped propel Motown into national stardom, and their first “million-seller” is told by two aging members of the group. In the airport on their way home from the funeral of one of the members of the group, they reminisce about how the Marvelette began, how mistreated they were and disillusioned, about their fame and lack of fortune, about their individual stories.
With a live band up high, a talented cast, incredible costuming, irresistible singing and dancing, and amazing staging, I sat with wrapped attention along with the rest of the audience, totally absorbed in the songs and dance moves, watching the stories of each of the characters. The audience is introduced to each of the members of the Marvelettes, and their individual personalities are revealed along with their stories as they mature. These are not happy stories but the glitzy singing and dancing would make you think they were. The parade of exquisite costumes and matching shoes were probably worth the price of admission, alone.
Though “The Supremes” often come to mind when mentioning “Motown”, it was the Marvelettes and their voices that helped launch the company to prominence. As the songs they made famous like “Don’t Mess with Bill,” “Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” “My Baby Must be a Magician,” “Beechwood 45789,” and “Please Mr. Postman” were sung, many audience members sang to themselves and or clapped along to the music.
As with all Black Ensemble productions, the production features outstanding live music. The musicians are Music Director Robert Reddrick (drums), Justin Dillard (keyboard), Herb Walker (guitar) and Danny O’Conner (bass).
The Black Ensemble Theater
Founded in 1976, by the phenomenal producer, playwright and actress Jackie Taylor, Black Ensemble Theater is the only African American theater located in the culturally, racially and ethnically diverse north side Uptown community. Through its Five Play Season of Excellence, The Black Ensemble Theater dazzles audiences locally, nationally and internationally with outstanding original musicals that are entertaining, educational and uplifting. The Black Ensemble Theater has produced more than 100 productions and employed over 5,000 artists.
On November 18, 2011, The Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center opened and is able to accommodate larger-scale productions, bigger audiences and a wider range of educational programming. The new facility includes amenities such as a 299-seat main stage theater (double the capacity of the original venue); 14 offices, classroom space; rehearsal hall, dance studio, scene shop, costume shop, and wardrobe rooms; seven dressing rooms; rehearsal room for musicians; front lobby space with concession areas; and an indoor parking garage. The completion of a 150-seat theater, which will serve as an experimental stage for the work of the Black Playwright Initiative (BPI), is expected in to begin construction in 2014.
The mission of the Black Ensemble Theater Company is to eradicate racism and its devastating effects upon society through the theater arts. For more information on the Black Ensemble Theater Company, please visit the Black Ensemble website or call 773-769-4451.
Schedule: Friday: 8:00 p.m.
Saturday: 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Sunday: 3:00 p.m.
Location: Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark Street.
Valet parking is available.
Ticket prices: $55 on Saturday matinees; and $65 on Fridays, Saturday evenings, and Sunday matinees. A 10% discount is available for students, seniors, and groups.
Box Office: Buy online or call (773) 769-4451
Photos: Danny Nicholas