Muddy Waters (The Hoochie Coochie Man), Black Ensemble Theater. This is a blues concert masquerading as a play–but it’s a first-rate blues concert, which isn’t all that common anymore. While plenty of actual bluesmen seem content to phone it in, Roy Hytower, Qween Roy Wicks, and Rick Stone are fresh and vigorous in their impersonations of Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, and Howlin’ Wolf. Under music director Jimmy Tillman, they’re accompanied by an outstandingly tight band featuring local legend Billy Branch on harmonica and by nine superb singers, among whom Terry Lloyd Price stands out.

As director and choreographer, Jackie Taylor has done a fine job in this revision of Black Ensemble’s 1984 show: it moves efficiently, and the dance numbers are lively and fun. But as a writer, Taylor has kept all the action offstage, which leaves a lot of dead air on it: we hear about, rather than see, Waters’s conflict with Chess Records; we hear, but see no evidence, that Waters’s style of blues was alien to Chicago. Members of the ensemble flirt and squabble without ever defining themselves as characters, occasionally pausing to say something like, “Muddy, have you met Sunnyland Slim?” Nor is Taylor a composer: her three superfluous songs are the weakest in the score.

But when Hytower sings “I Just Want to Make Love to You” or Wicks brags that she’s “built for comfort, not for speed,” the music takes over and all’s right with the world.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ken Simmons.