My companion and I saw the Nothin’ But the Blues performance and were quickly swept up by the rhythm, nostalgia and the soulful atmosphere of the wide-ranging blues genre. The play, essentially a vehicle for blues songs, melodies and riffs is placed in the dim, smoky and weathered environment of Theresa’s Lounge, an infamous Southside Chicago blues club populated by myriad souls drawn together, in part, by an apparently affirming musical experience. From its opening in 1954 until it closed in 1983, legends such as Junior Wells and Buddy Guy performed there.
Rhonda Preston plays lounge owner Theresa Needham, embued with the wisdom of a mother/therapist/nurturer/ bartender and the quick wit of a goodtime party hostess. Trinity Murdock, as Will is her bouncer/M.C. The cast includes Lyle Miller (the drunk Lewis), Rick Stone (Old Man Washburn), Lawrence Williams (Kenny the Kid), Noreen Starks (Mrs. Tate), Candace C. Edwards (Rolanda), Robin Beaman (Flo), and Kelvin Roston, Jr. as (Mailman Tate). Musical support lead by musical director Robert Reddrick on drums, with Mark Moultrup at the keyboard, Herb Walker on guitar, Tracey Anita Baker on bass and Osee Anderson on the lead guitar. In addition to directing, Ms. Taylor is also costume designer and was joined on the production team by Victoria Cammon (stage manager), Denise Karczewski (lighting design) and Carl Ulaszek (set design). The stylish and colorful costumes added a significant ambiance to the play.
Those familiar with the Black Ensemble Theater productions are happily aware of Jackie Taylor’s singular dedication to the black musical experience of the late twentieth century. Ms. Taylor has written and directed more than 100 productions for BE. She persists, unapologetically, in devising formulaic, thinly constructed “plots” that support the music and/or the artists of the past. These plays are about powerful music, culture and recollections. For me, and I suspect, many in the audience the sensations of nostalgia are amazingly palpable and often unnerving.
While the styles of the music Ms. Taylor features vary, from blues, rock & roll, jazz, soul to R&B, each genre reinforces the strength of black culture and black identity and positively portrays those significant influences on America culture. Nothin’ But the Blues entertains us with 20 blues songs, some written for the production, others oldies but goodies that thrill our nostalgic sensibilities. The very first chords and beats invite the audience to sway, pop our fingers and rock. Raw vocals, salty phrases, teasingly seductive lyrics provoke a peek into the, to quote Jackie Taylor:”the joys, sorrows, and surprises that can only be lived through the blues."
Black Ensemble Theater is in the final stages of its capital campaign to build a new home for the company, the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center. Of the $15 million needed for the project $13 million has been raised to date. Ms. Taylor indicated that groundbreaking is expected to begin this summer. For more information, visit www.BlackEnsembleTheather.org or call 773-769-4451.