On Monday October 6th, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) will kick off its 15-year anniversary year on the Van Wezel stage with a one-night-only performance of The Eve of Jackie, a tribute to Jackie Wilson, starring Chester Gregory who was also an original creator of the show. Known to sellout most audiences wherever it is presented, The Eve of Jackie offers a first-hand experience with the renowned singer live in concert, with his band and soul back-up singers, on a night when he is compelled to share details of his troubled life. The timing is September 28, 1975, a date that turns out to be Wilson’s final performance. The date is the night before his tragic onstage heart attack, which put him into a coma for over nine years, before he finally died in January 1984.

“This amazing show was featured as the 2013 opening production for all those attending the National Black Theatre Festival Gala,” recalled Nate Jacobs, founding artistic director of WBTT. “I knew then that our audiences would love this show and that I had to bring it to Sarasota. The kickoff of our 15th anniversary year became the perfect opportunity.”

The Eve of Jackie first premiered in February 2013 at 54 Below in New York City and its sold out performances inspired the producers to bring it back in March. From there it traveled to the Black Ensemble Theatre in Chicago where more sell out audiences just could not get enough of Chester Gregory. The play opened the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem and continued to draw sell-out audiences during its weekend performances. This year more sellout performances were enjoyed in Indianapolis and Gary, Indiana, Gregory’s hometown.

Chester Gregory, also known as CHΞSS, is an actor, singer and songwriter. His first experience as Jackie Wilson was in an original musical play called The Jackie Wilson Story. His performance was so impressive that it led to his Broadway debut as Seaweed in Hairspray. Gregory went on to appear in other New York City-based productions and national tours, including principal roles in Tarzan, Cry-Baby, Dreamgirls, and Sister Act. After garnering more amazing acclaim, Gregory returned to his Jackie Wilson project, creating a more intimate look into the singer’s life, which became the present production of The Eve of Jackie. To date, Gregory has received numerous awards for his outstanding work, including the Joseph Jefferson Alliance Award and the Black Theater Alliance Award, both for Best Actor in a Musical; and the NAACP Theatre Award.

“I am very excited to bring this tribute to Jackie Wilson, The Eve of Jackie, to Sarasota,” continued Gregory. “Wilson was one of the most important singer/songwriters of his time and one of my personal idols. The show is very poignant, and revealing. There will be much to learn. But most importantly, it is a night of pure energy and entertainment. I love to perform this show and am looking forward to October 6th.”

Cost for tickets for the special one-night-only performance of The Eve of Jackie range from $35 to $100 and are being sold through the Van Wezel box office, beginning July 18. Contact them at 941-953-3368 or go online www.vanwezel.org.

For more information on WBTT and their upcoming season, visit the website www.wbttsrq.org.