The Black Ensemble Theatre’s production of “All In Love Is Fair” written and directed by Jackie Taylor, is what’s known as a “jukebox musical”, featuring songs by an established artist, in this case mostly Luther Vandross, rather than original music.
The disadvantage to jukebox musicals is that the story must serve the songs rather than the other way around. The compensating advantage is the fun of seeing familiar classics performed in new contexts. Just the opening notes of a song like “Dance With My Father” can make an audience euphoric with anticipation.
The setting is Love, Illinois, a mostly African American town whose demographics are changing because of an influx of white folk, wryly noted by the show’s wise and worldly narrator, Ms. Kate (Katrina Miller) The show’s story consists of episodic vignettes playing out among the idyllic town’s population, including an elderly couple trying to keep their romance alive after fifty years, (Zachary Boyd and Rhonda Preston) a player (Lawrence Williams) who is cheating on his fiancé (Aerial Williams) with a high school friend (Jenny Lamb), a heavy set white man (Vasily Deris) who is afraid to admit his feelings for his skinny black best friend (Cara), and a pair of newlyweds (Dawn Comer and Quinton Guyton) too immature for commitment. Taylor also takes a courageous and honorable stand against homophobia in the black community with a pair of closeted gay lovers (Donald Barnes and Dwight Neal)
All of these storylines are simple and affecting, but the real star of the show is the music, performed by a live band and the powerhouse voices of the actors. Every performer here shines, though some brighter than others. Boyd and Deris each bring the house down with their divine renditions of these hits.
“All In Love Is Fair” succeeds as little more than great entertainment but that’s more than enough.