Black Ensemble Theater Presents THE HEALING Review – Human Rights Hit Parade

Editor’s Note:  Read related interviews in the George Floyd: In Memoriam roundup.

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With 19 songs woven into history lessons from a progressive point of view, the 10-person cast of Legends The Musical: A Civil Rights Movement, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow opens a new door for Black Ensemble Theater’s time-tested formula of melding entertainment and Black Pride elevation.   Some elements are what we always expect, and have come to love about Black Ensemble Theater, in this writer’s view—especially the astounding musical talents on the stage, including some spot-on recreation of classic hits like Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (sung by Vincent Jordan) and Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come (sung by Blake Hawthorne) or new takes on classics like John Lennon’s Imagine (sung by Colleen Perry)What’s new in this performance, is a detour from the biopic, to painting a broader canvas of Black History, and detailing the underpinnings of the persistent racism in America and beyond.  This is much stronger in political punch than the usual Black Ensemble Theater fare.

Black Ensemble Theater THE HEALING
Blake Reasoner, MJ Rawls, Colleen Perry, Jasmine Bomer, Dwight Neal, Hannah Mary Simpson, Vincent Jordan, Blake Hawthorne, Stewart Romeo

Black Ensemble Theater Creates a Healing Circle

It’s the latter that show creator/director and Black Ensemble Theater driving force
Jackie Taylor bites off by having her performers, starting with the guides (Dwight Neal and Dawn Bless) invite us into a “healing circle”. The purple hued stage creates that, a circle, as does the feeling of the seating.  At many moments throughout, the cast is planted among us in the aisles, adding to the feeling of being part of this circle, as we move our heads in all directions to hear the lines spoken from different points of the hall.   At times we feel like we are in the midst of a ricocheting pinball machine, with lines of painful truths, soaring past at speeds that linger just long enough to sear.   We are asked to sit with being a bit uncomfortable with the subject matter.  Pressure relief valves come in the form of periodic detours into rocket-fueled gospel, Motown or scat singing, especially by Dawn Bless’ vocal prowess.

From Emmett Till to Tamir Rice, and all in between and beyond, we learn how today’s police brutality is yesterday’s lynching by another name.  You too might have been struck more by the less recognized names in the list. The takeaway lesson that the real list, both historic and modern, is longer still. As Projection Designer DJ Douglass brings us their faces fading in and out of view, gruesome details of “…76 bullets”, “.. shot him in the back..” and more, encircle us.

Black Ensemble Theater THE HEALING
Dwight Neal, Blake Reasoner, MJ Rawls, Colleen Perry, Dawn Bless(Front), Jasmine Bomer, Hannah Mary Simpson, Vincent Jordan, Blake Hawthorne, Stewart Romeo
Black Ensemble Theater THE HEALING
Stewart Romeo, Jasmine Bomer, Dwight Neal, Blake Reasoner, Vincent Jordan, Blake Hawthorne

These murders – by police and vigilantes— are just the launch point—both for break-the-tension songs, and a script that asks us to go beyond, to also consider the pain of children-in-cages, the Trans community, and worldwide struggles for human rights.    True, it’s likely preaching to the choir, but as Jackie Taylor’s original songs The Truth is Here and They are Our Heroes  prod us to do, the show’s real impact might be in compelling this choir to learn more, and do more.  You too might find an hour or so the next day to Google both a longer list of lynchings, and unrecognized contributions of African American inventors to our modern world. Taylor’s script ties these two quests together for you, by positing the unknown list of inventions and other achievements that might-have-been had these Black lives not been lost to the scourge of racism. It’s a WHAT IF question, and we-are-in-this-together framing that many, this reviewer included, hope will take center stage.

This show, like most if not all Black Ensemble Theater productions, recommends itself by assembling top shelf vocal talents.  It’s unlikely anyone who goes to this show will leave thinking anything other than that they are all the real McCoy. If you are of a progressive mindset, and need to periodically find nourishment by hanging with kindred spirits, this LEGENDS THE MUSICAL is a top pick for your time.


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Written and Directed by: Jackie Tay


Dwight Neal and Dawn Bless (The Guides), Jordan, Jasmine Bomer, Blake Hawthorn, Colleen Perry, Blake Reasoner, Stewart Romeo, Hannah Simpson and MJ Rawls (The Village People)


Jackie Taylor (original music), Lemond D Hayes (choreography), Bek Lambrecht (set), Denise Karczewski (lights), Davis Samba (sound), Jackie Taylor (costumes), DJ Douglas (projections), Nicholas Belanger (technical director). Jessica Moore is the company stage manager and Daryl Brooks is the Equity stage manager.


Through April 12, 2020

Thursdays: 7:30pm (March 5 only)
Fridays: 8:00pm
Saturdays: 3:00pm (except February 22 and 29) and 8:00pm
Sundays: 3:00pm


Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center
4450 N. Clark Street



For full price tickets and information, go to Black Ensemble Theater website or call (773) 769-4451

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Photos by Alan Davis

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

Amy Munice

About the Author: Amy Munice

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.


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