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Longtime patrons of Black Ensemble Theater are probably familiar with the post-curtain speech sometimes heard there. “Going to Black Ensemble is just like going to church — because there’s a donation basket in the lobby.”

But their latest show — no joke — is a spiritual experience. Since it’s about the Queen of Gospel, that’s exactly as it should be. In “Mahalia Jackson: Moving Through the Light,” writer/director/BET founder Jackie Taylor imagines an afterlife for Jackson that’s not exactly heaven (or so we’re told), but where the music is heavenly. It’s lighter on the biographical details than some past shows, but it does a gorgeous job of capturing the emotional resonances of Jackson’s performances and making it clear why she became a star, despite her steadfast refusal to perform secular musi

In Robin DaSilva, Taylor’s found a terrific vessel for Jackson’s soul. That soul is caught in a sort of waiting room in the “house of the Lord,” but not yet in the presence of the Almighty. With the help of three “masters” (played with wit and full-throated choral strength by Cynthia F. Carter, Dwight Neal and Stewart Romeo, who tackles the wide-eyed young-soul role with glee), as well as assorted other spiritual doulas, Jackson revisits key moments in her life.

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Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago Showcases the Music of the Queen of Gospel With ‘Mahalia Jackson: Moving Through the Light’  was originally published on