Rick Stone the Blues Man

At the Black Ensemble Theater

By Dan Zeff

 

Chicago—Rick Stone is one of the most distinctive entertainment personalities in Chicago. Stone has been associated with the Black Ensemble Theater for three decades and his performance at the BET as the blues singer Howlin’ Wolf remains unforgettable. So it’s right and proper that Stone, after all his years of service, should have his name on a company show, titled, what else “Rick Stone the Blues Man.”

Stone doesn’t actually dominate the show. It’s a team effort with six other performers and a stomping rhythm and blues band. But with his gold suit and one-of-a-kind dance movements, Stone is definitely the man of the evening. Indeed, we could use more of him in the show, especially when he goes into his Howlin’ Woolf guise.

“Rick Stone the Blues Man,” directed and written by BET artistic director, is set in a blues club appropriately called Rick’s Place. There his friends gather to sing the blues and chat about their personal life, which equates with their love life. The music portion of the evening consists of more than 30 songs—rock, rhythm and blues, and blues—with a Broadway show tune as a ringer (even Stone wondered aloud on stage what “The Party’s Over” is doing in a blues club).

Photo credit: Alan Davis

Some of the songs emerge from the personal lives of the singers and others are sung one after another in concert style. The music is separated by moments of informal conversation, much of it intrusive or inconsequential, some of it funny or moving. But, like most BET productions, this show flies on its singers, tapping into a pool of belters and shouters and crooners and songbirds who never disappoint.

There are only two women in the show but they are both scene stealers (and have been at the BET for years). Cynthia Carter and Rhonda Preston can peel the paint off the walls with their loud, expressive, often salty, sometimes fervent vocalizing. Listening to these ladies soar through “Wang Dang Doodle,” “You Can Have My Husband (But Don’t Mess with My Man),” and “Help Me” defines the blues style, female outpost.

Dwight Neal and Theo Huff, mean shouters themselves who specialize in the glories and agonies of love, lead the male contingent. They are supplemented by Stone, of course, Kelvin Davis, and Lamont Harris, who may or not be the world’s greatest harmonica player, but he is good enough to rock the BET stage.

All the vocalists are accompanied by the small band that plays very large when it comes to propelling the singers upward and onward. The vocals are booted home by the foursome of Mark Miller on bass, Gary Baker on guitar, Adam Sherrod on keyboards, and leader and percussionist supreme Robert Reddrick, periodically and joyously abetted by Harris’s harmonica magic.

Some demurrers. The show is too long, running almost 2½  hours. As long as the music is in charge, length isn’t an issue. But the talking part can profitably be pruned. Near the end of the show, the show gives up its momentum for several minutes while two performers reminisce on a darkened stage. The scene comes from nowhere and however deeply felt, could be sacrificed in the interest of tightening the overall production.

Then there is a startling scene when Kelvin Davis has a Vietnam battlefield flashback that is a surprise I didn’t know how to take. For a few moments a romping stomping blues gathering turned grim and semi tragic. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the scenes, but they just seem a poor fit with the rest of the show.

Photo credit: Alan Davis

The length of the show is an issue and the shifts in mood can be unsettling. Still, the combination of the soulful and hand-clapping blues songs and performers who are masters of the style easily carry the evening. The Missus Carter and Preston can hold any stage in town, with Rick Stone’s presence and Lamont Harris’s harmonica an irresistible bonus. By the end of the opening night everyone in the house had their mojo working.

The show gets a rating of

“Rick Stone the Blues Man”” runs through August 26 at the Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 North Clark Street. Performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $55 and $65. Call 773 769 4451 or visit www.blackensemble.org.

Contact Dan at ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com.                2018

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