My Heart is crying, crying (the jackie Wilson Story), Black Ensemble Theater. “You’re lucky you sing so good,” a boyhood companion declares to Jackie Wilson in this biographical play. “It’s the only reason we put up with you.” These remarks capture the essence of pioneering pop superstar Wilson, whose swift rise and protracted descent are explored in this musical revue by Black Ensemble Theater.

Spoiled, irresponsible, and volatile, Wilson expected from others the same unconditional love his doting mother lavished on him, likewise mistakenly trusting the men who managed his career. But he thrilled audiences–none of his subsequent imitators (James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince) ever matched his vocal or kinetic intensity. His repertoire included collapsing to the floor in a full split, ripping at his clothes in Dionysian frenzy, dancing a one-footed Suzie Q, shimmying and rooster-walking, and singing from a supine position that did nothing to impair his voice, a powerhouse tenor that could leap to a falsetto as pure and startling as summer lightning.

The portrait that emerges from the testimonies of those near him–notably Motown’s Berry Gordy, who wrote many of Wilson’s hits –acknowledges the man’s faults. The positive side of his legacy is left to Chester Gregory II, whose charismatic portrayal replicates Wilson’s talent right down to the last ecstatic vibrato and chaine turn.

–Mary Shen Barnidge