Review: ‘My Brother’s Keeper (The Story of the Nicholas Brothers)’

Brothers (Rueben Echoles to the left, Rashawn Thompson on the right) dance across America, break down barriers and inspire other emerging artists.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a show more joyous than the current production at Black Ensemble Theater. Rueben Echoles (playwright and one-half of the famous duo) and Jackie Taylor (director and producer) have compiled a toe-tapping, spirited and hugely entertaining celebration honoring the lives of Harold and Fayard Nicholas — two performers who broke barriers and brought people together solely through their powerful, athletic routines.

This dynamic dance team dominated the nightclub circuit in the 1930s and 40s, performed for the president, and eventually made their way to Broadway and the silver screen. In 1991, they received a Kennedy Center Honor. My primary experience with the Nicholas brothers, however, is from the 1985 film “That’s Dancing!,” which features some of the greatest dance routines caught by Hollywood cameras. I wore that VHS out as a kid. Here are the brothers in action:

Echoles, as the egocentric younger brother Harold, and a golden-voiced Rashawn Thompson as older brother Fayard, may not have the crazy acrobatic precision of their inspirations, but the energy is there in spades. Your attention is drawn to this pair whenever they’re onstage. And, lucky for us, they dominate the evening.

The story tracks their rise to fame, led by their fearless father, and the wreckage left behind — mostly in the form of neglected marriages (Fayard, it’s interesting to note, wed the talented, tempting and tragic Dorothy Dandridge played by Kylah Williams).

Yes, some of the book scenes are quite clunky, and the narration shifts randomly between players merely to give the leads time to change costumes between scenes. Also, there’s an over-reliance on characters breaking the fourth wall and flat-out telling us what they’re thinking/how they’re feeling, rather than drawing us in by showing us.

But — as a whole — it’s just a great, fun time.

“My Brother’s Keeper (The Story of the Nicholas Brothers)” plays through May 16 at the Black Ensemble Theater. Go here for more information >

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