"The Otis Redding Story" (Try A Little Tenderness), Black Ensemble Theater. If you walk out of this production without having clapped your hands to or hummed along with some of Otis Redding's tunes, you better take a moment to check your pulse. The artists celebrating "the messenger of soul" are so exuberant and joyful in their portrayals that the energy of Redding's music pours from the stage through the audience. Penned and directed by collaborators Jackie Taylor and Jimmy Tillman, "The Otis Redding Story" not only gives an overview of the singer's tragically short life but places his contributions in their social and historical context. Taylor and Tillman's major theme is that it's not so much our length of time on earth as what we do with it that matters, a theory proven by Redding's soulful music, from classics like "Mr. Pitiful" to "Respect."
The expositional dialogue is the weakest part of the show, but the music, directed by Tillman, and the dancing, choreographed by Taylor and Eva D., more than make up for the flat conversations. The entire ensemble is top-notch; Vince Harris as Redding generously portrays the legend, infusing his songs with the heart and depth needed to resurrect the man. Special note goes to Rick Stone for his sharp comic timing as Magic Man and to Lavondra Hinton and Barbara Cannon for their takes on Aretha Franklin and Baby Jane.
--Gabrielle S. Kaplan