Jackie Taylor and her Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago never disappoint for stage entertainment.
Right now, Taylor's latest written and produced musical is a two-and-half hour, one-intermission tribute to another great, late Chicago performing legend.
"It's All-Right To Have A Good Time: The Story of Curtis Mayfield" is a well-done co-direction by Black Ensemble Theater's founder Taylor and Daryl D. Brooks. It just opened last weekend as an open run at the new Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark St. in Chicago.
If you don't immediately recall the story of Mayfield, who died far too soon at age 57 in 1999, you certainly have heard his music, starting with his first written hit "She Was a Gypsy Woman."
On Aug. 13, 1990, Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down after stage lighting equipment fell on him at an outdoor concert at Wingate Field in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York. Though he was unable to play guitar, he still wrote, sang, and directed the recording of his last album "New World Order," with the help of his devoted wife at his side. He is the father of 10 children, and at last Sunday's opening of the show, his widow Altheida Mayfield and two of his sons attended.
Before going solo, he was originally a member of The Impressions and his song list of hits include "We're A Winner," "It's All-Right," "I'm So Proud," "Choice of Colors" as well as the movie soundtrack hits from the 1972 film "Super Fly."
He is the winner of the Grammy Legend Award (1994), the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1995) and a double inductee into both The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1991, 1999) and the Grammy Hall of Fame.
These are clearly large shoes to fill for any portrayal. But Reginald E. Torian, Sr., who hails from Chicago Heights, does a great honor with his characterization playing "Older Curtis Mayfield." He certainly knows plenty about Mayfield, considering he replaced Mayfield in The Impressions in 1972 and still remains in the group today. The cast also includes Cecil Jones, who is wonderful as "Young Curtis," David Simmons in a fine turn in the roles "Older Jerry Butler" and Carl Davis, the always fantastic Lawrence Williams as "Younger Jerry Butler," Brian Nelson as Fred Cash of The Impressions and Donald Craig Manuel as Sam Gooden of The Impressions. Other cast members playing various roles include: Casey Hayes, Rueben D. Echoles, Jos N. Banks, Mark J.P. Hood, Alanna Taylor, Katrina D. Richardson, Ereatha Star McCullough and Christina D. Harper.
As with all Black Ensemble Theater Productions, Robert Reddrick serves as musical director. The Black Ensemble Musicians includes Reddrick on drums, Danny O'Connor on bass, HerBert Walker on guitar, Justin Dillard on keyboards and Paul Howard on trumpet, Bill McFarland on trombone and Dudley Owen on saxophone.
Black Ensemble Theater performance times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets $55 and $65 at blackensembletheater.com or (773) 769-4451.