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A Tribute To Funk Music
The Black Ensemble Theater production celebrates a genre whose influence cannot be denied
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​Ross’ (David Schwimmer) girlfriend on “Friends.” During seven episodes on the show, Tom was kind of a lightning rod for fans of the show, some who didn’t like the fact that she had taken Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) place in Ross’ heart. “Fans still get angry about that,” she says. “There was a live audience [during filming of the show], and they would boo me when I came on because they really wanted Ross to be with Rachel.”
   Not to be discouraged, Tom moved on and exhibited even more of her talents, using her voice in popular animated series such as "Futurama," "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness," "Pound Puppies," "Teacher’s Pet," "Batman Beyond" and "Mulan 2." 
   Now, it’s all about Andi Mack, the much talked-about series, where Andi, played by 13-year-old Peyton Elizabeth Lee, was abandoned by her teenaged mother. Enter Lauren Tom as Celia Mack, Andi’s grandmother who made her believe that she and Andi’s grandfather were her parents––and her real mom was her sister.
   There will be more to this continuing story when Andi Mack returns to the Disney Channel on Mondays in June.
Photography courtesy of Disney Channel
–– Walter Leavy
Photograph by Liz Lauren
  UPON entering the Black Ensemble Theater, each person is greeted with “Welcome to the Mothership,” and minutes later the musical flight lifts off with “One Nation Under A Groove,” beginning a satisfying, 90-minute-plus ride of serious funk that touches the heart and soul of the most ardent funkateer.
   In the booming musical review You Can’t Fake The Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music), writer/director Daryl D. Brooks set out to provide a showcase to celebrate the importance of funk, which has been an influential element in the development of so many other genres of music. He wanted it, he says, “to be a big party. A good time celebrating a genre of music that survived the decades.”
   It is a big party, one with theatergoers dancing in the aisles to the music by some of the industry’s biggest performers, including Sly & The Family Stone, The Ohio Players, The Gap Band, Earth, Wind & Fire, Chaka Khan, Rick James, The Commodores, Cameo, Bootsy Collins and Soul Brother No. 1 James Brown, who many observers point to as the innovator of funk, which is characterized as a rhythmic form of music that was born out of the unique mix of soul, jazz and rhythm and blues.
   Perhaps no group is more identifiable and associated with funk music than Parliament/Funkadelic, guided by the iconic George Clinton, who, as the captain of the Mothership Connection, helped pioneer the genre with a one-of-a-kind concert presentation and a collection of enduring hits that include “Atomic Dog,” “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” and “Flashlight.” For Clinton, it always has been all about the uncut P-Funk.
   In You Can’t Fake The Funk, the show––running through September 22––gives reverence to Clinton and his exceptional contribution to the music. Longtime Black Ensemble member Dwight Neal is in control of the Mothership as “Dr. Funk,” who introduces the performers and shares tidbits about their illustrious history. On stage, the music is delivered by a talented, energetic ensemble that includes Brandon Lavell, David Simmons, Jayla Williams Craig, Michael Adkins, Blake Hawthorne, Stewart Romeo, Lemond Hayes, Thera Wright and Vincent Jordan. They are accompanied by the always impressive Black Ensemble Orchestra, led by music director Robert Reddrick. 
   In this presentation, for nearly two hours, the audience gets funked up. The flamboyant Clinton, who’s in the midst of his final tour on the road, once said: “If [it’s] making people shake their booty, it’s got something to do with funk.” That’s what you get when you climb aboard the Mothership and experience You Can’t Fake The Funk (A Journey Through Funk Music). There’s a whole lot of booty shaking going on.
Stewart Romeo as Sly of Sly & The Family Stone and (below) Dwight Neal as George Clinton.
––Walter Leavy
Ticket prices are $55 for Thursday and Saturday matinees; $65 on Friday, Saturday evenings and for Sunday matinees. A 10 percent discount is available for students, seniors and groups. Buy online at www.blackensemble.org or call the box office at (773) 769-4451.
Photographs by Alan Davis