If you have seen one of Jackie Taylor’s plays at the Black Ensemble Theater in Uptown, you have pretty much seen them all. The latest incarnation of her brand of concert-style musical theater peppered with somewhat preachy teachable moments, Rick Stone: The Blues Man, delivers on what enthusiasts of Taylor’s theater are there for. Everyone cast in this show is extraordinarily talented—and thankfully so, since audiences will sit well beyond two hours.
The show begins the moment you arrive at Taylor’s state-of-the-art theater. Ensemble member Lamont D. Harris, a renowned harmonica player, serenades the crowd as they wait in the lobby for the house to open. Other ensemble players mill about welcoming everyone to Ricky’s Place, the fictional nightclub where the action takes place—complete with seating on stage for a few tables of theatergoers.
The “blues man” of the show’s title is Taylor’s longtime friend and collaborator Rick Stone, who grew up with Taylor in the Cabrini-Green public housing projects. He first drew attention for his notable role in the 1975 movie Cooley High, in which Taylor also had a role. Since then, Stone has worked with the Black Ensemble Theater for about thirty years. In this show, he takes the stage as a nightclub-owner version of himself, and continues to entertain audiences with his raspy vocals reminiscent of blues great Howlin’ Wolf.
During the show, the “regulars” who frequent Ricky’s Place share their day-to-day woes, punctuating each conversation by singing a number from center stage. Along with club owner Rick Stone, audiences meet Dwight, a middle-aged philanderer played by Dwight Neal, who bops in and out of the club to cozy up with his nineteen-year-old girlfriend while his wife is out of town. This theme lends itself to classic blues songs such as “19 Years Old,” made famous by Muddy Waters, and the Irma Thomas classic “(You Can Have My Husband But Please) Don’t Mess With My Man,” sung by versatile songstress Rhonda Preston.
Powerhouse vocalist Cynthia F. Carter plays Cynthia, the club’s resident floozie, who boasts that she is not loose, but in fact free, and sashays through the audience to flirt with men seated on the aisles. Carter belts out a dynamic rendition of “Wild Wild Woman” only surpassed by her follow-up song in act two, “I’m A Woman.” We also meet Kelvin (Kelvin Davis), a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD, who has a violent outburst that sets the stage for telling the audience that more needs to be done for veterans than simply thanking them for their service. Stone has a drop-the-lights-down-low moment, too, when he talks about the deaths of dear friends from Cabrini-Green and how loss shapes us all.
If you are a blues and Black Ensemble Theater fan, this is the show for you. If not, take note that offstage, the Black Ensemble Theater also has various education and community outreach programs, including summer jobs training and an initiative to strengthen schools through theater arts.
Rick Stone: The Blues Man is somewhat recommended.
Rick Stone: The Blues Man. Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark St. Through September 9. $49.50–$65. Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 3pm and 8pm; Sunday, 3pm. (773) 769-4451.
Nicole Bond is the Weekly’s Stage and Screen editor. She last wrote for the Stage and Screen section about the Court Theatre’s production of The Belle of Amherst.