OFFBEAT: Black Ensemble Theater presenting dance fairy tale 'Once Upon a People'

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-11-30T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Black Ensemble Theater presenting dance fairy tale 'Once Upon a People'By Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Black Ensemble Theater Founder and CEO Jackie Taylor are ready for the magic of the holiday season with the world-premiere production of "Once Upon A People: A Dancesical," written and directed by Black Ensemble Theater Associate Director Rueben D. Echoles and made possible through a grant from Chicago Community Trust.

During a limited run, I'm told "Once Upon A People" is for all ages, staged at the new Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark St. in Chicago.

The show opens for previews today, Nov. 30 until Dec. 30 with performances on Mondays, Tuesdays and Sundays in repertory with "The Curtis Mayfield Story." The press opening is Tuesday, Dec. 3.

"Once Upon A People" is an original African Fairytale, which I'm told, exemplifies the true power of love told through spoken word, beautiful music and exhilarating dance. It's described to me as "a touching and warm adventure that is perfect for the holiday season." Audiences journey to the mystical land of Mirah, where Prince Oba and Princess Erin learn to embrace the joy of living.

The cast features Alexis J. Rogers as Queen Imani, Donald Craig Manuel as King Babatunde, Eric Lewis as Prince Oba, Jazzelle Morriss as Princess Erin and Claudia Cunningham as Zahara. Cast members playing various roles include: Camille Robinson, A’rese Emokpae, Trequon Tate, Mark J.P. Hood, LaRaia Gribble, La Dreauna Johnson, Kudzaishe Jeti, Kyle Smith and Aramie C. Payton.

The book and lyrics for "Once Upon A People" are written by Echoles, who also provided vocal and musical arrangements by with Alexis J. Rogers and Kelvin Roston, Jr.. As with all Black Ensemble productions, the production features outstanding musicians. The Musical Director is also Roston, Jr. and the band leader is Robert Reddrick. The production features students from Studio One, a Southside organization dedicated to providing professional dance classes for children for more than 25 years.

Tickets are $45 for adults and $30 for children under 12 at or or (773) 769-4451.

Founded in 1976 by 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, Black Ensemble Theater continues to dazzle 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 Nov. 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 opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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