Black Ensemble Theater Presents YOU CAN’T FAKE THE FUNK Review - A Boogie Wonderland, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED best play pick, Thru September 2, 2019
The spirit of the funk vibrates along the trademark circular stage of Black Ensemble Theater’s You Can’t Fake the Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music). A silver Parliament Funkadelic-esque mothership lays center of an elevated band setup washed in purple light, clad with silver streamers serving as the gateway for surprise funky musical guests entering via a rotating stage.
Black Ensemble Theater Lives Up to Their Reputation
Black Ensemble Theater, founded in 1976 by Jackie Taylor, is known for their powerful musical presence and You Can’t Fake the Funk is no deviation from that reputation. Dr. Funk (played by Dwight Neal) led us on this journey, taking us back in time in celebration of funk’s golden age, and the pioneers who made it so. Stars like The Ohio Players, Rick James, Curtis Mayfield, Earth Wind & Fire, and of course Funkadelic graced the airwaves, electrifying listeners with nostalgia and an unshakeable urge to groove to the tunes. As our mothership captain led us down music’s memory lane, we played a guessing game of whose story was being told, before they made their guest appearance, playing among the greatest hits of their career. In essence, this is a tribute to all things funky.
Platform shoes, glittering skin-tight ensembles, and trademark 70’s afros were on constant rotation as the vocalists, along with the band supplying the tunes, moved us to our feet. What this funk-lover appreciated is the spirit of crowd and performers together -- singing and dancing as one nation under the groove -- even some words between actors and audience were casually exchanged, as if a part of the show! Music-heavy, the acting was reserved for spirited history narratives and vignettes of the stars featured.
This reporter only comes with one warning -- crowd interaction gets more involved the closer one is to the front row, so musical-goers should prepare for a “splash zone” of sorts, should they find themselves in the front row.
If you’re a lover of all things funk, it’s a given that this experience is a must -- if only to see a performance of Rick James one can simply not (and wouldn’t want to) unsee! This reporter says bring a friend and enjoy the ride.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Written and Directed by: Daryl D. Brooks
Choreography by Chris Carter
Music Direction by Robert Reddrick
Dwight Neal, Jayla Williams Craig, Stewart Romeo, Blake Hawthorne, Lemond Hayes, Thera Wright, Vincent Jordan, Michael Adkins, and Brandon Lavell
Set design by Denise Karczeski and Bek Lambrecht
Light Design by Denise Karczeski
Sound by David Samba
Costume Design by Rueben Echoles
Thru September 2, 2019
Thursdays: 2:00pm - No show on August 8
Fridays: 8:00 pm
Saturdays: 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm
Sundays: 3:00 pm
Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center
4450 N. Clark Street
About the Author:
Brittany Harlin is the founding artistic director of Chicago Urban Dance Collective and 2017 recipient of the Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award. Her influences are Hip Hop and Modern Dance Pioneers. In addition to company work, her dancing and choreography has been featured at Ragdale Foundation, Links Hall, Elastic Arts, Aragon Ballroom, DRAMA Duo Music Productions, Black Ensemble Theatre, and Hip Hop International.
Brittany’s focus is Hip Hop, Modern, Funk Styles, Waacking, and House, combined with growing knowledge of somatics and kinesiology, all through the concert dance lens. Her goal is to bring dance education to a place of complete body awareness, spiritual expression, and connection. Brittany hopes to establish her practice in expressive therapy, creating opportunities, and inclusiveness.
Her teaching artist pedagogy & philosophy are weighted in respecting the integrity of the vernacular movement, by sharing what she’s been taught from respected community members - and stopping exactly there. She relates those concepts to personal natural movement, and the energy of the dancers she’s working with. Her goal is to create solidarity between diverse backgrounds, conducive to the essence and intention of The Hip Hop Socio-Political Movement. Harlin’s passion in dance extends to her community as she has launched her most recent endeavor of teaching professionalism and industry standards to aspiring professional dancers.
When Brittany isn’t dancing, she is supplementing her work with her passions for poetry and songwriting. She’s been referred to as a fawn and a hippie on multiple, separate occasions.