All in Love Is Fair at Black Ensemble Theater | Theater review

Jackie Taylor’s latest, set to the sweet strains of Luther Vandross, wears out its uplifting welcome.
Photograph: Courtesy of Black Ensemble Theater Katrina Miller and Lyle Miller in All in Love is Fair
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Taylor’s latest jukebox offering uses the music of the late, velvet-voiced R&B crooner Luther Vandross (augmented here and there by other songs reminiscent of his smooth style) to tell the tales of six sets of lovers in fictional, downstate Love, Illinois. There’s a cute older couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, a pair of newlyweds who already can’t stand one another, a love triangle, a gadabout resisting her fiancé’s entreaties to set a wedding date, two friends tentatively inching toward romance, and—in what might be a nod to Vandross’s own rumored homosexuality—a closeted gay couple.

As usual with Black Ensemble, Taylor has loaded the cast with vocal powerhouses, any one of whom could stop a show dead in its tracks. This time, the standout is Vasily Deris, whose gut-wrenching “Dance with My Father” made me want to call mine. The performers are universally likable as well, especially the preternaturally sassy Katrina V. Miller, who plays the town gossip and serves as narrator.

But in spite of these assets—including an uplifting, inclusive, all-you-need-is-love message—the show is numbingly formulaic. The two acts proceed identically: A series of two-person scenes, each ending in a plaintive solo, culminates in an evening at the town’s Diversity Club, where we’re treated to more solos and a raucous group number. Basically, it’s one belted ballad after another; after a while the songs come to seem interchangeable, and the show grows repetitive and, ultimately, wearisome.

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