‘Legends the Musical’ aims to inform on the effects of racism and the tools to end it

Songs help communicate the message of the Black Ensemble Theatre show.

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Dwight Neal stars in “Legends the Musical: A Civil Rights Movement, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” at Black Ensemble Theater.

Dwight Neal stars in “Legends the Musical: A Civil Rights Movement, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” at Black Ensemble Theater.

Michael Courier

As a black woman living in the city of Chicago, Jackie Taylor has spent a lifetime dealing with the ever-present effects of racism and hatred and discrimination in her own life. Yet, as the founder and CEO of the Black Ensemble Theater, Taylor also knows that there are ways to eradicate that racism … through the arts.

“We went on our creative artist retreat last year and we really looked at the state of America today and how that related to the mission of the Black Ensemble Theatre,” explains Taylor. “We decided to approach this season as a season of change, where we take the audience in the direction of making a positive change toward the better and the positive.”


‘Legends the Musical: A Civil Rights Movement, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’

When: Feb. 22 – April 12

Where: Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark Street, Chicago

Tickets: $55 - $65

Info: www.blackensemble.org

The first step in doing that is through the production of “Legends the Musical: A Civil Rights Movement, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Written and directed by Taylor herself, the two-hour, two-act production tells the story of the impact of racism on this country through the years and those who have fought against that racism … and why.

“The foremost problem as it relates to racism and discrimination is hatred and, with that hatred, a lack of knowledge and a very wrong perception of history,” Taylor says. “Those were the three tangibles that I used to create this production. We felt it was very important to talk about the hatred and why it’s there and where it came from, and then educate and understand what real contributions Black America made to American society.”

But more important, Taylor says she wanted to leave the audience with a demand for the racism to end, and the tools to make that change.

“These tools can then be used to combat the hatred and the ignorance outside those theater doors,” she says. “We hope that theatergoers leave with an understanding of the reality rather than keeping their blinders and accepting what they are told is the truth.”

Of course, as with the rest of the Black Ensemble Theatre’s productions, music proves to be vital in pushing the message forward.

“Music crosses all of the cultural boundaries,” says Taylor, who utilizes songs such as “What’s Going On,” “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Stand by Me” in the production. “It’s the one thing as human beings that we all have in common. Music has an impact on us that’s color-blind. It affects us all in the same way.”

Leading the healing in this heart-jarring production are Dwight Neal and Dawn Bless as The Guides.

“I wanted an honesty and a rawness in every actor and actress that played a part in this production,” Taylor recalls. “I didn’t want to think that they were acting when they were up there. I wanted them to be very honest with their approach.”

Of course, with honesty comes the pain of the truth, a truth that Taylor says might be uncomfortable for some audience members.

“We talk about and show, in part, the hundreds of African American males who have been killed by police,” she says. “And when we show in part the thousands of lynchings that occurred around this country … well, it’s chilling.”

While it may be sometimes hard to watch, Taylor says she does feel it’s a production that young people should see.

“The play is highly educational and there is a lot of history infused into the production,” she says. “I think its important for our young people to know and understand as early as possible about our true history. But you must talk to your child. You can’t expose them to this history and not talk about it afterwards.”

And yes, it is in the eyes of the young people where Taylor sees the most promise for better days.

“Habitual hate that has been passed down from generation to generation,” she says quietly. “We must recognize it and we must understand it and then we must let it go.”

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