After stepping foot on the music scene in the late 1950s as a solo artist, Jackie Wilson forever changed the face of Pop Culture. The late music icon, known for his dynamic stage presence and cross-over hits, has inspired legions of entertainers from Elvis Presley to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson among countless others.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s life has also been portrayed in the highly successful theatrical tour, “The Jackie Wilson Story,” which spawned a new production starring award-winning stage actor-singer Chester Gregory entitled, “The Eve Of Jackie.”
Directed by Da'Vine Joy Randolph, the production is set during Wilson's final complete performance on September 28 1975, the day before he collapsed live on stage.
After premiering to a sold out crowd on February 4 at New York City’s elegant nightclub, 54 Below, the show is scheduled to make a return on March 4.
During an interview with The Huffington Post, Gregory opened up on his latest production, which also stars Lillias White as R&B singer LaVern Baker.
Earlier in your career you starred as Jackie Wilson in “The Jackie Wilson Story.” How did the role help prepare you for “The Eve of Jackie”?
It was actually a show that paralleled my career and helped push me forward to being seen in New York. And so, just paying homage to this man and legend has been second nature for me to go back and recall the body language and the character. So with revisiting the role, of course I have footage of some of the stuff that I used to do before, but additionally what I did was watch everything that I did before and then I strip myself from all of that, cause I didn’t want to do a repeat performance of what I did ten years ago.
And then by me doing this show, it’s a real time show of him at the end of his life. I get to play him at a very specific point as opposed to playing him during his entire life. So, it’s been cool.
Since the production is considered a one-man show, are you incorporating any interaction with the audience?
I’ll definitely interact with the audience. The show has a lot of Improv to it, so it has that element of danger to it where I’m interacting with the audience and you don’t know what’s going to happen. And I don’t know what’s going to happen either. We’re just in that present moment and we’ll just see what happens.
What initially sparked the idea for the show?
When I did the show ten years ago a woman came up to me at the Apollo Theater and it was towards the end of the show, and she goes “don’t go to the Latin Casino,” and I go, “What!?” So I just kept singing and it stuck with me. So I went backstage after the show and I said to all of the cast, “This crazy lady just came up to me and said, “Don’t go to the Latin Casino.”
Now I knew what the “Latin Casino” was [where Jackie Wilson collapsed on stage], so it had me thinking like, “what if someone would’ve told him ‘Don’t go to the Latin Casino,’ I wondered what would’ve happened.” And so I just thought, I wondered what that day before was like for him. And so I was just living with that idea.
Are you also performing the same set list from the concert?
I think I’m probably doing more songs. I’m not sure of the exact set list, but I am doing a bulk of songs from his career. I’m doing 16 songs in 90 minutes.
Aside from the forthcoming date at 54 Below, are there any plans to extend the show?
Yes, the show has been extended again, but it’ll be in Chicago March 24 at the Black Ensemble Theater at 7:30. And the Black Ensemble Theater is we originally did “The Jackie Wilson Story.” So I’m coming back home. [Laughs]
"The Eve of Jackie" is set to take place at 54 Below on March 4th at 9:30PM. For tickets, click here.