The Black Ensemble Theater has titled its 2015 season “Stir Up the Pot,” and it is, in fact, adding a whole lot of new ingredients to its traditional recipe.
The season will open with the world premiere of “The Trial of Moses Fleetwood Walker,” a non-singing drama-with-live music by Ervin Gardner. And it will continue with: “Sounds So Sweet,” a new musical that highlights girl groups both past and present; “A Tribute to the Incomparable Bill Withers”; “The Black White Play,” a tribute to Roger Ebert, with the music speaking to his philosophy of life; and “Dynamite Divas: Gladys, Aretha, Roberta, Nina and Nancy,” a tribute to Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Nina Simone and Nancy Wilson.
As Jackie Taylor, the Black Ensemble’s artistic director explains it: “Yes, this is the season where we stir up the pot. You’ll still get our fabulous musicals, but we’re adding something different. ‘The Trial of Moses Fleetwood Walker’ is a drama that will include live musicians, but no singing, and it will suggest the sort of work we will be producing in our Studio Theater, which will open in 2016 . Our Studio productions will continue to speak to the Black Ensemble mission of eradicating racism, and they will feature live music, but they also will add a different flavor to the mix. Remember, we’re not changing; we’re expanding!”
“We will also will be paying tribute to film critic Roger Ebert by way of a new musical that is partially funded by a bequest from the trust of Roger Ebert,” said Taylor.
Here are the details of the 2015 season:
± “The Trail of Moses Fleetwood Walker” (Feb. 7-March 15, 2015), Ervin Gardner’s play, directed by Jackie Taylor. When you ask who was the first black major league baseball player most people would say ”Jackie Robinson,” but most people would be wrong. In fact it was Walker , who played for the Toledo Blue Stocking in 1884 in the major leagues. However, this is not a story about baseball; it is the trial of a black man who was as popular in his time as Michael Jordan is in ours. Moses was accused of murdering a white man at a time when blacks were traditionally lynched for far lesser crimes.
± “Sounds So Sweet” (April 11-May 17, 2015), written and directed by Rueben Echoles. This battle of the girl groups — of “old school” versus “new school,” from the Supremes, to En Vogue, to Danity Kane — promises to be a fun-filled musical featuring knockout hits by more than 20 girl groups from the 1960s til today.
± “A Tribute to the Incomparable Bill Withers” (June 20-Aug. 16, 2015), written and directed by Daryl D. Brooks. The show will feature such songs as “Lean On Me,” “Use Me,” “Grandma Hands” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” to speak to the genius of this songwriter who was born in a West Virginia coal-mining town in 1938.
± “The Black White Play (Honoring the Memory of Roger Ebert through Music)” (Sept. 19-Nov. 1, 2015), written and directed by Jackie Taylor.
± “Dynamite Divas” (Dec. 6, 2015-Jan. 12, 2016), written by Jackie Taylor and directed by Daryl D. Brooks. This show suggests what can happen when you put Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and Roberta Flack in the same room for a day. To be sure, you get some great nostalgic music. Originally presented in 2001, “Dynamite Divas” will be updated to feature some of today’s divas, too, including Beyoncé and Mariah Carey.
Note: In addition to the regular season, two special events will be presented during the season. They are: The International Theater Festival (May 23-30, 2015), featuring dance, music and film performances representing cultures from around the world, including Tonsy Egyptian Physical Dance Theatre staring Karim Tonsy, the Romanian film “After the Fall-HIV Grows Up,” and other cultural offerings to be announced; and The Annual Black Ensemble New Year’s Eve Show” (Dec. 31, 2015), featuring performance by the stars of Black Ensemble Theater, along with other entertainment, food, dancing with the stars and champagne.