Presented by the Black Ensemble Touring Company, Jackie Taylor and Brian Kabatznick, at the Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125 St., NYC, April 6-27.
The subtitle of "The Jackie Wilson Story" is "My Heart is Crying, Crying," a lyric borrowed from the singer's famous pop hit "Lonely Teardrops." It is indeed a sad experience watching the troubled tale of the vibrant performer who became a victim of booze, broads, and bad contracts. But it is also inspiring and enlightening to see a young man move from the streets of Detroit to the spotlight of stardom on the basis of his incredible vocal range and dancing ability.
This show reveals not only the talent and drive that Jackie Wilson displayed, but the influence he had on future generations of showmen (everyone from Elvis to Prince to Michael Jackson). It is written and directed by Jackie Taylor, who displays similar talent and drive as head of Chicago's Black Ensemble Theater. She has taken her subject and presented both good times and bad, from career-making concerts to family battles, often combining the two in almost magical counterpoint (when Jackie's first wife confronts him about his indiscreet affairs, he sings to win back her love).
The production boasts many stars: veteran Melba Moore, who wins viewers' hearts as Jackie's supportive, spiritual mother; Katrina Tate, transforming from childhood bride to conflicted wife of the superstar; Elfeigo N. Goodum III, whose booming bass enriches several supporting roles; and the versatile ensemble, including Rueben Echoles, Mark D. Hayes, Robert Thomas, Lyle Miller, Tony Duwon, Valarie Tekosky, and Eva D.
But the headliner is Chester Gregory II, an effervescent standout as Jackie Wilson, offering an equally exciting combination of soaring vocals, lightning moves, and indelible charisma.
Kudos to the musical teamwork of Jimmy Tillman, Rick Hall, Robert Reddrick, and George Paco Patterson, as well as designers Robert Martin and Dorian Sylvain (set), Chris Garbacz (lighting), Virgil C. Sanner (costumes), and Rueben Echoles (hair).