The year was 1955 when rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry made musical history; his song “Maybellene” went straight to the top of both R & B and pop music charts. This upbeat “Hill Billy” song broke an unofficial but long-standing color barrier by climbing to the top of the charts in a music world ruled by White artists.
“Hail, Hail Chuck” pays tribute to the musical icon and the man who revolutionized the music industry in an era of overt racism enforced by Jim Crow laws–a man who stared the adversity of prejudice in the face when it was better to coward down rather than to stand firm.
With a career expanding more than 60 years, playwright L. Maceo Ferris took us back to the very beginning as we take a glimpse of the dreams, hopes, and fears of a young Chuck Berry at The Black Ensemble Theater.
The young Chuck, seeking to find his own identity, sneaked off to learn how to play the guitar because his father, who was a deacon in a church, thought playing the guitar was the devil’s music. Chuck leaves home in search of joining a group, but that is where his troubles begin. He connected with a couple of friends outside of St. Louis, however they got arrested and received a three-year prison sentence. While there, he meets two men in prison playing music, and the journey of Chuck’s musical life begins.
The Father of Rock and Roll was one of the greatest artists of our lifetime, contributing to others’ success and stardom such as Elvis Presley. Bob Dylan hails Chuck Berry as the Shakespeare of Rock, and Keith Richards credits Berry for teaching him everything he knew about playing the guitar.
One can say it is all about the music in “Hail, Hail Chuck” Director Daryl D. Brooks led us into a 50’s Band Stand party where the fun never ends. Black Ensemble hit it out of the park with this production where the young and old Chuck Berry deliver with charismatic energy.
Vincent Jordan, who plays the young Chuck Berry and unexpectedly had to fill in a week before the opening, was phenomenal. His embodiment of the young Chuck was purely entertaining and genuinely remarkable after such a short time to prepare. Lyle Miller played the Older Berry and also did an outstanding job in his performance, which makes this musical one of our favorites.
Ensemble men of many talents Rueben Echoles and Kelvin Davis, who played the young and old Johnny Johnston, also added to the entertainment with great performances.
Black Ensemble added a lot of interesting twists to the story by sharing with us about the on and off relationship Berry had with Johnny Johnson. Johnson, Berry’s longtime piano man, was irritated that Berry was getting too much credit while he was never recognized for his contribution to several songs made famous by Berry.
With 17 hit songs in a two-hour performance, we jubilantly listened to the sounds that molded rock and roll and learned about the life of Chuck Berry, which was problematic and filled with traumatic thrills and a troubled past.
We also got a chance to see appearances from Fats Domino, Muddy Waters played by Dwight Neal, and Bo Diddley, played by Trequon Tate, as well as Leonard Chess and Keith Richards, played to perfection by Jeff Wright.
In this bio-musical, we get to understand the roots of how and where Chuck Berry derives his style and passion for music before such groundbreaking hits “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Nadine” and “Johnny B. Goode” and other great songs that climbed the charts.
We highly recommend “HAIL, HAIL CHUCK: A Tribute To Chuck Berry” at The Black Ensemble Theater.
The cast includes:
Vincent Jordan (Young Chuck Berry)
Lyle Miller (Older Chuck Berry)
Rueben Echoles (Younger Johnny Johnson)
Kelvin Davis (Older Johnny Johnson)
Kylah Williams (Themetta)
Cynthia Carter (Otha Mae)
Jeffrey Wright (Leonard Chess)
David Stobbe (Teddy Reig)
John Wesley Hughes (Taylor Hackford)
Dwight Neal (Muddy Waters)
The Ensemble includes Lemond Hayes, Brandon Lavelle, Trequon Tate and Christopher Taylor.