CHICAGO—It is hard to believe that it was 1976 when Jackie Taylor’s Black Ensemble Theater premiered her musical “The Other Cinderella,” her version of the classic story that deals with hope, love, and the importance in believing in one’s self. Taylor herself was the original Cinderella.
In Taylor’s version, we are in the Kingdom of Other where all are welcome. Her story has a lot more “soul” with music and comedy for everyone.
The basic story remains that the King (Dwight Neal) and the Queen (Rhonda Preston) want to see their son, the Prince (deftly handled by Lawrence Williams), married, so they are arranging a ball where every woman in the kingdom can be met and one selected.
As in the original, Cinderella (now played with great vocal range by Ta-Tynisa Wilson) resides with her Stepmama, a postal employee (the incredible Dawn Bless), and her stepsisters, Margarite (the comic Lisa Beasley) and Geneva ( Jessica Moore), who are “do-nuttins,” living off the fat of the land while Cinderella toils from day to night.
While they are all intent on attending the ball, Cinderella is left behind. Now enters the Fairy God Mama (energetic and bubbly A’rese Emokpae) who fixes Cinderella’s hair, adorns her in a lovely dress and some very chic slippers (no mention of glass, but a whole lot of class), and sends her off in a limo with a driver.
Fairy God Mama’s instructions are to be back—on the way home—by 11:45 p.m. (there is a joke here about African-Americans and being on time) instead of midnight.
The basic story is the same, the Prince finds Cinderella, and they live happily ever after. She allows her stepfamily to live in her castle, but with some rules that will change their lives and give her just a tinge of revenge.
The music is fun, the choreography is sweet, and the cast of players, as always at Black Ensemble Theater, is a powerful force in telling a story with soul!
Yet there are some strange twists to even previous productions. This show has a wonderful portrayal of Dorothy (Erin O’Shea) from the “Wizard of Oz,” who wants very much to leave Kansas and move to the Kingdom of Other, seeking a new lifestyle.
Dorothy must pass a test in order for her to make this move—a test that deals with jazz, Southern cooking, soul music, and some pretty heavy dancing—African-American style. O’Shea takes on all the challenges and truly shows her stuff!
While this subplot has nothing to do with the original story, I can see that Taylor interspersed this story to show that all races can live together in peace and harmony, learning to accept each other. For me it worked.
The kids from the hood, who start the show off as part of the audience, are playful and fun. As the lights go down, they come into the audience casual, late, and wearing hoodies of all colors. They are townspeople in attendance to see if one of them wins the lottery for the opportunity to be a page for the King.
Raymond Wise—wonderfully talented—is selected. His cohorts are Brandon Holmes, Alyssa Zopp, Malcolm Thompson, and Rueben Echoles (also the associate director of Black Ensemble Theater. Echoles has written, directed, and choreographed their shows over the years. Even his speech for their constant plea for money is one that is casual, funny, and in great spirit).
Add to this the great music of Robert Reddrick and his musicians, and the evening couldn’t be enhanced.
And for originator and director Jackie Taylor, her dreams come true: The audience is not what one might expect in a theater named Black Ensemble Theater, but rather a sprinkling of all ethnicities, enjoying music, laughter, and storytelling together. What a wonderful feeling!
While this show will return in 2014, there is still time to catch this sterling production.
To learn more about the theater and its upcoming season, visit www.BlackEnsembleTheater.org.
4450 N. Clark Street, Chicago
Tickets: 773-769-4451 or visit www.ticketmaster.com
Closes: Jan. 13
Alan Bresloff writes about theater in and around the Chicago area.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 20 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.