Black Ensemble Theater’s “You Can’t Fake the Funk” Puts the ‘Fun’ in Funky

If you live by the “life has no guarantees” creed, then chances are you’ve probably never been to the Black Ensemble Theater because the theater’s latest offering, “You Can’t Fake the Funk,” is a guaranteed good time. This “funktastic” journey, that pays homage to legendary funk groups, definitely has the grooves to make your body move!

Written and directed by Daryl Brooks, the tone of the show was set right away by an energetic ensemble performance of Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove.”  It is here where we meet “Dr. Funk” (Dwight Neal) who serves. as the funk tour guide and maintainer of the “mothership.” Dr. Funk provides anecdotal commentary about funk group origins and reminds the audience that “funk [music] began out of necessity.”

Cultural tidbits were sprinkled throughout as Brooks’ script included how the music industry slowly embraced funk (Sly Stone was integral in it becoming more mainstream) and how it eventually became “a gold standard in black music.”

The show moved at a rapid, but not rushed pace, and featured back-to-back performances of hits by major funk artists of the day including The Ohio Players, Cameo, The Commodores, Rick James and more.

The musical numbers hit a high note with an outstanding salute to Sly and the Family Stone and Earth, Wind and Fire, but the show’s glaring low point was the underwhelming tribute to Chicago’s own, Chaka Khan. Granted, in the pantheon of funk, she [with Rufus] didn’t sustain the longevity other groups did, however, the hometown funky diva deserved a bigger nod.

The second act opened with an enjoyable, near-perfect movie medley of funk jams from iconic 70s films (“Shaft,” “Superfly,” and “Car Wash”) but in the end, it was the George Clinton/Parliament string of hits that fittingly served as the finale.

With a tight-knit troupe, fantastic costuming, the always solid Black Ensemble house band, and an audience that stayed on its feet, “You Can’t Fake the Funk”was not only fun, but it was also funky.

The show runs at the Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark St., through September 22.

LaShawn Williams is a lifelong Chicagoan and arts and entertainment enthusiast.



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