Black Ensemble Theater, renowned for its party-time revues, outdoes itself in this look at the heyday of Stax Records. The music is a foot-stompin' mix of classics (Sam & Dave's "Soul Man," Carla Thomas's "B-A-B-Y," the Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself") and lesser-known numbers like Johnnie Taylor's "Cheaper to Keep Her" and Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff." Playwright David Barr III structures the narrative, such as it is, around concurrent fictional events in 1980: a 20-year Stax reunion concert and the imminent sale of a bar, Pop's Place. Though the reunion scenes are weighed down by clumsily integrated expository material about Stax, the bar scenes resonate emotionally and thematically: in the classic conundrum of gentrifying areas, it seems the mom-and-pop owners can either stay in business--and fail--or cash out. Jimmy Tillman's brass-heavy eight-piece band keeps the energy high, and under Jackie Taylor's direction the performers are funny and accomplished, delivering musically precise renderings jazzed by sometimes outrageous bits of stage business. Five dancers expertly, energetically perform Rueben Echoles's savvy choreography. You know you're in good hands when even the scene changes, performed by two dancers, are amusing. a Open run: Thu 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Black Ensemble Theater, Uptown Center Hull House, 4520 N. Beacon, 773-769-4451, $40.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ken Simmons.