“THE BROOK BENTON STORY” (JUST A MATTER OF TIME), Black Ensemble Theater. Continuing its yearlong celebration of African-American men of music, the Black Ensemble Theater memorializes the late Brook Benton, a 60s phenom who earned 13 gold records and had 18 chart busters between 1959 and 1963.
As always, the story showcases the songs. The script, by director Jackie Taylor, tells how Benton fled South Carolina to become a demo singer in 1953, then joined forces with Clyde Otis and Chicago’s Mercury Records to write standards for the likes of Nat King Cole. Benton was a consummate crooner–whether on his own or in torrid duets with blues queen Dinah Washington–whose classic “So Close” made you feel you were. When his intimate approach fell out of favor, he took it hard.
Direoce Junirs’s mellow bass could stir a stone–the women in the first-night audience screamed like Beatles fans. He serves up “Just a Matter of Time” as if it were tailored for him, and he makes Benton’s 1968 hit “Rainy Night in Georgia” unfold like a rose. Such talent deserves Barbara Smith’s memorable Dinah Washington. Assuring authenticity are superb 60s-style arrangements by Thomas Washington and vocal director George Paco Patterson, Jimmy Tillman’s impeccable musical direction (enriched by two subtle backup singers), and funkadelic choreography by Taylor and Eva D.