By Barry Reszel
It’s a season dedicated to “Movers and Shakers.”
Chuck Berry. Patti LaBelle. Rick Stone?
Of course Black Ensemble Theatre’s Stone is not the professional rugby league coach and former player who somehow got the Fiji national team to do some movin’ and shakin’ of its own. He simply owns rights to the Rick Stone Wikipedia page.
BET’s Stone, a longtime performer at the theatre, is kin (if not blood) to Black Ensemble’s Queen, Jackie Taylor, the writer and director of blues revue, Rick Stone The Blues Man, currently running at BET.
It is she who best describes the duo’s back story:
“Rick Stone and I grew up together in the Cabrini Green projects. We have been together for a long, long time. When my youngest brother, Joe Taylor, passed away at the age of 30—Rick Stone took his place and he is in every sense of the word—my brother,” Taylor said.
“Rick Stone has been through some very rough times. When his sister called me and said, ‘Ricky needs help,’ I called him up and said, ‘Get your ass down to the theatre—you’re going on the stage!’ That was about 30 years ago, and Ricky has been with me ever since.”
And so this electric company’s current show takes place at Ricky’s Place, a blues club like no other, where drinks flow and BET’s magnificent musicians rarely slow. Featuring a blues set in two acts from the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, KoKo Taylor, Etta James, Buddy Guy and numerous others, terrific vocalists Dwight Neal, Theo Huff, Rhonda Preston, Cynthia Carter, Kelvin Davis and Lamont “Harmonic Man” Harris join Stone in a two-hours-plus attempt to blow the roof off the Black Cultural Center.
Supporting this cast is BET’s always top-notch backstage team, with splendid costuming by Jackie Taylor herself; a simple, distraction-free set by Bekki Lambrecht and terrific sound and lighting by David Samba and Denise Karczewski, respectively. Scripted characterizations by Jackie Taylor help the cast move from one number to the next, but this is no plot-driven production; it’s about the music.
And whether it’s Preston’s “You Can Have My Husband;” Carter’s “Wild, Wild Woman;” Neal’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City;” Huff’s “Down Home Blues;” or any of the other 29 magnificent renditions, there is sure to be one (hell, many) that will get any patron’s mojo working. They’re all brought to life by the best onstage band in the city, led by drumming Musical Director Robert Reddrick and including Adam Sherrod on keyboards, Gary Baker on guitar and Mark Miller on bass.
It would be remiss, however, to omit noting that the music of Rick Stone The Blues Man, as excellent as it is, may indeed be the second most important takeway for patrons of this show.
The first has to be the second-to-none hospitality of this company that makes every patron feel as though they’re attending a house concert (albeit a big ass house concert) at Jackie Taylor’s home.
And for that, this reviewer suggests it is she who just might be the greatest mover and shaker of them all.
Black Ensemble Theatre presents “Rick Stone The Blues Man” at Black Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark Street, Chicago, through Sept. 9. More information and tickets are available here.