Rick Stone first shined on the Black Ensemble Theater Company stage as legendary Chicago blues icon Howlin Wolf back in in 2003.
A decade later, he's back and once again bringing every one of Wolf's hits back to life, including "Red Rooster," "Goin' Down Slow," "I Ain't Superstitious," "Baby Please Don't Go" and others.
Black Ensemble Theater never disappoints, with a serious and successful dedicated mission to keep the memories and talent treasures of artists from the past and present in the minds of the new generations of today's audiences.
I only knew a few details of the life and career of late blues men Howlin Wolf and his Windy City stage rival Muddy Waters.
But after enjoying Sunday's opening of "In Memory of Howlin Wolf: Ain't No Crying the Blues," written by Black Ensemble Theater Founder and CEO Jackie Taylor and directed by Associate Director Rueben Echoles, these great men of music now feel like old friends.
For this decade-later resurrected work, Stone, alone, is a reason to make the trek to see this production, which runs through Aug. 11 in the beautiful, top-notch new Black Ensemble Theater space at 4450 N. Clark St. on Chicago's north side. When Stone last performed in this role, it was in the former, smaller dedicated spaced used by Taylor and her Black Ensemble talented troupe. The real Wolf towered at 6-foot 6-inches and sky high Stone must come awfully close to that height (Taylor said she grew up with Stone as neighbors, both living in Chicago's Cabrini Green Apartments Projects).
Taylor's productions always include plenty of juicy "behind-the-scenes" tidbits of the famed subjects she highlights on her stage. For example, for this show, we learn that Howlin Wolf was aggravated, yet good-natured, about iconic radio personality Wolfman Jack "stealing" his on-air howling persona from his onstage act. Also, while both Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters both shared the same Chess record label, they didn't like to share star billing during performances.
This two-hour, one intermission production is more heavy on quick musical numbers (19 in total) and less on stage storyline. There's still plenty that unfolds and is revealed about Wolf's difficult childhood, his struggles to please his mother and his devotion to loving wife Lil, played nicely with heart and affection by Kylah Williams to contrast the rock-solid, ground shaking turn by Cynthia Carter as Wolf's emotionally disturbed mother. And for anyone who is a lover of blues, just listening to Robert Reddrick's musical direction is worth the drive.
Performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $55 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturday matinees; and $65 on Fridays, Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees. There's a 10 percent discount for students, seniors, veterans and groups and both affordable valet parking and plenty of street meter parking abound. FYI: ticketmaster.com or (773) 769-4451 or blackensembletheater.org.