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Theater Wed Nov 23 2011

Review: The Jackie Wilson Story @ Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center

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This past weekend, fans of the Black Ensemble Theater enjoyed the opening of the new Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark St., with the kickoff of the 2011-2012 season entitled "Legendary Season of Rhythm and Blues."

The Jackie Wilson Story, an audience favorite that was revamped for the new season, premiered at the new, sleek and modern 299-seat venue, to a host of both old and new fans. Written, directed and produced by theater founder and director Jackie Taylor, the story serves as the ultimate tribute to the late soul singer.

The story begins with Jackie Wilson (Kelvin Roston, Jr.) lying in a hospital bed (Wilson was comatose for eight years until he died in 1984); however, the story takes the audience back through a timeline of the key moments of his life beginning with his days in a Detroit street gang, his strong bond with his mother Eliza Mae (Dawn Bless), his brief stint as a member of the Dominoes, his marriage accompanied by various infidelities, alcohol and substance abuse, shady record label executives, but most importantly, his passion to sing and entertain, thus earning him the nickname of "Mr. Excitement."

Although not necessarily a Wilson look-alike, Roston is more than engaging and entertaining in the title role as he takes the audience on a musical ride (backed by the stronger than ever Black Ensemble Band), belting out Wilson's greatest hits including "To Be Loved," "Lonely Teardrops," "A Woman, A Lover, A Friend," as well as a convincingly passionate rendition of "Doggin' Around." His dancing and physicality are also impressive--he does splits and backbends that are certain to wow any audience.

While it is a typical "rise and fall of" story, the cast indeed pays a solid tribute to Wilson; however, it would fare better if there was more meat to the plot--the actors come across as more anxious to get to the singing and dancing scenes rather than give a strong acting performance.

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Kelvin Roston, Jr. and Melanie McCullough

In the end, especially via the show's grand finale of "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," you definitely feel the spirit of Taylor's love and appreciation for Wilson's musical legacy, and in the new Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, you could feel the love and appreciation for a fabulous new facility and another soulful season.

See The Jackie Wilson Story now through January 8 on Wednesdays through Sundays; times vary. Tickets are $55-$65 and are available online or through the box office at 773-769-4451.

Photos: Danny Nicholas

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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