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The Eve of
Tues, Aug. 4 8 p.m.
Wed, Aug. 5 3 p.m.
Wed, Aug. 5 8 p.m.
Thurs, Aug. 6 8 p.m
Sept. 29, 1975 was not unlike any
other day for Jackie Wilson. "Mr.
Excitement" was on stage showing
an audience in Cherry Hill, N.J., just
how he earned his moniker. Over the
last 20 years, the Detroit-born singer
had established himself as one of the
planets foremost entertainers, with a
string of hits and a stage act that was
It wasn't all roses for Wilson: The
womanizer was nearly shot to death
by one of his paramours; the IRS was
a constant foe; and alcohol and drugs
(were his constant companions. But
by most accounts, Wilson still had
the magic when he stepped onto
the stage that night. Sadly, though, it
would be his last performance. He
suffered a heart attack on stage while
performing his signature hit, "Lonely Teardrops;" reportedly, he had just vocalized
the song's well-known refrain - "My heart is crying, crying" - when his heart
stopped beating. He was revived, but remained virtually comatose until his death
In "The Eve of Jackie," Chester Gregory takes audiences backstage at the Latin
Casino on that fateful night. They will see a side of Wilson few knew about. In
bittersweet fashion, Mr. Excitements peaks and valleys are recounted; all along the
way, his hits are delivered by Gregory, whose stage presence has been likened to
Wilsons and Michael Jackson's.
A native of Gary, Ind. (yes, he is from Michael Jackson's hometown), Gregory
became a star by playing Wilson, breaking onto the scene in 2001 when he shined
in the Black Ensemble Theater's "My Heart Is Crying, Crying... The Jackie Wilson
Story." The show was a sell-out when it came to the 2003 NBTF; it returned to the
festival in 2005.
Gregory, known as Chess to his friends, also made his Broadway debut in 2003
as Seaweed in the Tony-winning musical "Hairspray." His other Broadway credits
include "Tarzan," "Cry-Baby" and "Sister Act." In 2009, he embarked on a tour of
"Dreamgirls," picking up a Best Supporting Actor NAACP Theater Award for
playing Jimmy Early. Gregory has also released three CDs, "In Search of High Love"
and mixtapes "Breakbeat Karaoke" and "If U Onfyr
Gregory's many acting and musical gifts were honed at Chicago's Columbia College,
where he received a BFA in musical theatre and earned the lead role in the school's
production of "Jesus Christ Superstar." The school gave Gregory a huge pat on the
back for all of his success in May, awarding him with an honorary doctorate at its
Spring commencement ceremony.
Gregory debuted "The Eve of Jackie" in 2013 and has performed the show in sold
out venues around the country - and at the 2013 NBTF. The show is presented by
his company, Chess, Not Checkers, Inc. He co-wrote the musical with Crystal
Memphis native Katori Hall made history
in 2010 when she became the first African
American woman to win the Olivier Award
for Best New Play for her instant classic "Mountaintop." The play centers
around Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the hours before his assassination.
"Mountaintop" won critical acclaim after it debuted in London in 2009. It
came to Broadway in 20TI, with Samuel L Jackson and Angela Bassett in
the lead roles.
Hall, who is also an actress and journalist has degrees from Columbia and
Harvard. The 34-year-old's other stage credits include "Hoodoo Love"
and "Hurt Village," the 2011 Susan Smith Blackburn Award winner. "Hurt
Village" is a gripping and gritty drama about life in a Memphis public
housing community. Hall is directing a big screen version of her play.
In 20TI, Hall was chosen as one of the "Residency Five" by New York's The
Pershing Square Signature Theatre. Her second play of the residency, "Our
Lady of Kibeho," debuted last November.