Written, Directed and Choreographed by: Black Ensemble Theater Associate Director Rueben Echoles
As you enter the remarkable Black Ensemble Theater, the greeters, staff and ushers repeat the mantra, “Welcome to our live broadcast”. This prepares you for entering the audience section of a live television studio preparing for broadcast—dancers warming up, the stage manager bossing, crew members tidying the set. The activity continues until the off-stage manager announces the countdown. And, five, four, three, two and we are live.
Black Ensemble Theater loads the cast
Unlike most small theater productions, Last Dancer Standing has a large cast—22 on stage and four band members. This is the television production of a reality dance contest, so we have twelve contestants, three judges, three backup singers, the MC and her mother and two swing players.
Behind the Scenes Stories in Last Dancer Standing
We know the story and the natural tension caused by a contest. Here we expect to be surrounded by “behind the scenes” stories we are privy to as the live audience. In addition to the stage, there are three large monitors over the stage to cue the audience. They also provide cameos of the individual performer’s reactions and attitudes as they are eliminated.
From this writer’s perspective, however, this is not enough. The book is light, and it’s challenging to develop depth with so many characters. as was done so expertly in Chorus Line by focusing on just a few stories from the line.
Black Ensemble Theater fulfills its mission: to eliminate racism
Ultimately, this is a play about race: the production company is 814 Studios, commemorating the month and year of the death of Michael Brown and the Ferguson, MO riots. The judges are African-American. Nine out of twelve contestants are people of color, as are the backup singers and the band.
The three white contestants are eliminated through the contest—but race is not mentioned, or even alluded to in the first act. The second act is super-charged with contemporary themes of race, all to good effect.
Music and Dancing in Last Dancer Standing
The dancing is enthusiastic but from this writer’s viewpoint not especially memorable. It is mostly contemporary choreography, with some hip-hop and one enjoyable, but short, popping sequence. The best ensemble dance number is set in a night club with the contestants dancing as couples, each with different flare.
The music is fun, featuring hits such as Boogie Wonderland by J. Lind and A. Willis, Vogue by Madonna, and Freedom by Beyoncé Knowles, et al. Levi Steward Jr.’s solo of Motherless Chile by D. Tozer and J. Stephens is breathtaking. The Black Ensemble Band supported all the performances flawlessly and the backup singers were first rate. Shari Addison’s solos and duets leave you wanting her to have more stage time.
July 22 - September 3, 2017
Schedule: Thursdays: 7:30 p.m.,
Fridays: 8:00 p.m.,
Saturdays: 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.,
Sundays: 3:00 p.m.
Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center
4450 N. Clark Street
Valet parking is available.
A 10% discount is available for students, seniors, and groups.
Buy online at http://www.blackensemble.org or call (773) 769-4451
Photos: Michael Courier
Note: an excerpt of this review appears in Theater in Chicago.