In Curtis Mayfield musical, he’s played by a fan and a friend
By DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter September 19, 2013 9:31PM
Reginald Torian of the Impressions plays the older Curtis Mayfield in "It's All-Right to Have a Good Time: The Story of Curtis Mayfield" at Black Ensemble Theater. | Dave Hoekstra~Sun-Times Media
‘IT’S ALL-RIGHT TO HAVE
A GOOD TIME: THE STORY
OF CURTIS MAYFIELD’
When: Through Oct. 20
Where: Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark
Tickets : $55-$65
Updated: October 21, 2013 6:03AM
Stillness leads to a path of reflection.
Chicago-born singer-songwriter-producer Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed in 1990 after a lighting scaffold hit him before an outdoor concert in Brooklyn, N.Y. The member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame could no longer move from the neck down, except for minimal motion in his left bicep. Mayfield died of complications from the injury on Dec. 26, 1999. He was 57.
Chicago Heights-born Reginald Torian replaced Mayfield in the Impressions vocal group in 1972 and remains in the group today.
Torian is now portraying his friend in the Black Ensemble Theater production of “It’s All-Right To Have a Good Time: The Story of Curtis Mayfield,” which opens Sunday. (Cecil Jones plays the younger version of Mayfield.) It’s an acting debut for Torian, 62, although he has portrayed Mayfield in the musical tribute “All Things Mayfield” that appears annually at Chicago State University, among other venues.
During an early September rehearsal at BET, Torian is at center stage partially reclined, as was Mayfield in his final years. He does not move.
Where does his mind travel?
“I studied metaphysical theology in Miami, Fla. [in 2008-2011],” Torian says during a rehearsal break. “One of the things we learned was that what you think about, you bring about. So now when I’m working in the yard, I’m thinking of bending correctly, I think about it when I fasten my seatbelt. I had to practice becoming still — and be able to express emotion with the voice only. [Co-director Jackie Taylor] has taught me to do that. I’m learning you have to understand this intellectually, but you better be able to feel it.”
“It’s All-Right” features 10 full Mayfield songs and four medleys.
During rehearsals, BET founder Taylor led the 14-member cast through trust exercises. Wearing an old-school beige walking suit, Torian recalls, “We had to run and dive into the arms of the ensemble. Nobody can jump beyond the third row. I used to be a high jumper, I figured I could jump beyond that.”
Torian tried it and he failed — which resulted in a severe strain of the left quadricep.
“I cried,” he continues. “I had been training since March, when the Impressions got back from Spain. When I heard it crack I knew it was serious. I thought, ‘Now, I am going to have to play it in a wheelchair.’ I started therapy three weeks ago. The cast is finally off.”
Torian graduated class of 1968 from Thornton Twp. High School in Harvey. Right after high school he landed a job working in small parts at the Ford auto factory in Chicago Heights.
But he always heard music.
Torian started singing at the age of 5. He always sang in falsetto, which grew to resemble Mayfield’s soft tones.
“When I do Curtis I have to speak in a falsetto, a gentle voice,” he says. “I don’t speak that way naturally. But it is the way I modeled myself. The girls liked the high voice. So I did Eddie Kendricks, Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield.
“When I was 13, I had two albums: ‘Sam Cooke Live at the Copa’ and the Impressions’ ‘One By One’ [from 1965]. I had the speakers under my bed and the album would play all night long. So when I auditioned for this, I knew every song they wanted me to do.”
Just before joining the the Impressions, Torian was a member of the Enchanters, who had the 1973 hit “A Fool Like Me.” The four vocalists were backed by a horn-driven rhythm and blues band called From the Womb to the Tomb. While gigging with the Enchanters at the old High Chapparal nightclub, Torian was introduced to the Impressions.
Taylor has been impressed with Torian.
“He is a wonderful actor,” she says. “His role is very difficult. He has to portray all this emotion and he can’t move. He has more of a challenge than most actors would have — and he hasn’t done this before. He’s very teachable and he works very hard.”
Torian is directed by soul.