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You probably know what “Break a Leg!” means to an actor, but what do you say to a dancer? If you are Rueben D. Echoles and Rashawn Thompson, who are portraying the legendary Nicholas Brothers on stage in Chicago next month, it’s “Take Wings!”.

They are headlining the highly-anticipated opening production of Jackie Taylor's Black Ensemble Theater’s 41st Season with My Brothers Keeper - The Story of The Nicholas Brothers. Written, directed, choreographed and starring Echoles as the younger Harold Nicholas with Thompson as Fayard Nicholas, the production has BE’s cultural center jump jivin’ night and day with a cast of 16 and the Black Ensemble Orchestra under the direction of Robert Reddrick.

They have been called the greatest tap dancers who ever lived and the most beloved dance team in the history of entertainment. Born seven years apart into a performing family, the brothers had front row seats to the talents of the great black Vaudeville acts of the day. A ground-breaking appearance at the Cotton Club in 1932, when the brothers were only teenagers, led to Hollywood a few years later and then to Broadway in the 1936 Ziegfield Follies. They would go on to headline in venues all over the world, in films and on television for over six decades.

During a break from rehearsals, we joined Rueben Echoles and Rashawn Thompson to talk about the creation and development of the show and what it is like to fill the shoes of these legendary entertainers.

Reuben on advancing the Black Ensemble Theater’s mission …
"We will eradicate racism by letting us all know that we have common things that bring us together, music is one of those things … And we are celebrating the greatness of who we are. When we are proud of who we are, other people can look at us and say the same and respect who we are.”

Reuben on the Nicholas Brothers dance style …
“In terms of choreography no one can duplicate what the Nicholas Brothers did. So, what I do is I watch carefully and then I use accents of the things that will remind people of the videos. We do a lot of tricks that they did but not as many. If they jump down ten stairs, we will jump down four because no one has been able to duplicate what they have done since then. And I just don’t think I want to risk it.”

Rashawn on the importance of the Black Ensemble Theater’s Education Program …
"I had a tough life growing up. When I came to the theatre it gave me a chance to speak my mind. It gave me a chance to talk and be heard because I felt I was not heard a lot as a child. In the theater, I was able to be as big as I want to be and everybody’s listening … I know that with me being a mentor … there’s a lot of kids like me … how I was … and I see it and pay attention to them. I understand how to work them through it … try to make it a little easier than it was for me.”

“Break a Leg!” or ...
Reuben: “We say “Take Wings!” because we literally need to fly on that stage.”



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