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Food and music on ‘Taste of Soul’ at Black Ensemble


If you leave Black Ensemble Theatre’s “A Taste of Soul” without humming the “Celebrate good times, come on” refrain, you may miss the live music. On Sunday afternoon, audiences clapped, sang, and danced in their seats early in the Uptown-based theater’s latest jukebox musical, culminating in this delightful finale by Kool & the Gang.

Written and directed by Daryl D. Brooks, this world premiere is structured as a cooking show and is intended to be a live audience in a TV studio. Hosted by head chefs Qiana (Qiana McNary) and Ricky (Thee Ricky Harris) and a group of assistant chefs, the show explores the history of soul music and celebrates the power of both music and food to bring people together.

In the first act, the hosts use soul food recipes to promote a range of soul artists; For example, the peach cobbler is the entry for Peaches and Herb. (Make sure your dinner plans are in order before you watch this show, because it will make you hungry.) Qiana and Ricky provide brief biographies of the artists, along with photographs (projections by Denise Karczewski and Dj Douglass) and community members. Perform excerpts from his greatest hits. Starting with a variety of “appetizers” that include gospel, blues, and “a bit of old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll”, the show opens with the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye, then moves on to the “main dishes” of the soul. Musicians like Al Green, Barry White and The O’Jays.

After the break, the structure changes to include personal stories that link music and food. As family photos are projected onto the stage, ensemble members share anecdotes about cooking events, rental parties, and Saturday morning breakfasts, then introduce the soul artists who provided music to these cherished memories – Otis Redding, Patti LaBelle, and Tina Turner to name a few. This half of the show is when intertwined themes like music, food, and community really fall into place. At one point, when an actor remembered a typical family meal, the audience spontaneously suggested additions to the menu.

A group of seven, led by Adam Sherrod, with music directed and arranged by Robert Reddrick, accompanies the singers from a raised platform above the stage. The ensemble includes versatile singers who can easily take on the roles of various stars while also providing backup vocals and dancing when someone else is in the limelight (choreographed by Reneisha Jenkins). In the performance I saw, the sound mix was not ideal; vocals sometimes sounded muffled compared to the group. The run time also seemed a little long to me, but none of this reduced the energy in the room.

Marquecia Jordan’s costumes and Keith Ryan’s wigs reflect the artists’ iconic looks; mostly staying in a black, silver and gold color palette, it offers the right touch of glamor for any artist. The set and lighting, both designed by Karczewski, combine the clear simplicity you would find in a real cooking show with the bold colors and flashy lights of a live concert.

Theater Cycle


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“A Taste of Soul” is part of Black Ensemble Theatre’s “2023 Season of Excellence” and is subtitled “Renewal”. According to founder and CEO Jackie Taylor, the theme of rejuvenation connects productions that aim to “reignite the passion, excitement and energy of returning to the vitality and vitality” of live theater. Considering the different groups of people who clearly enjoyed the opening performance, I’d say this show is just right for that.

Emily McClanathan is a freelance critic.

Review: “Taste of the Soul” (3 stars)

When: Until October 15

Where: Black Ensemble Theatre, 4450 N. Clark Street

Working time: 2 hours 20 minutes

Tickets: $56.50-66.50 at 773-769-4451 or blackensembletheater.org


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