Sunday, February 7, 2010

M Ensemble: Mahalia: A Gospel Musical (1 review)

M Ensemble opened its production Mahalia: A Gospel Musical on February 4, 2010, a replacement for its previously scheduled Blue Door. They previously mounted a production in 2006 with the same creative team.
Mahalia traces the life and career of the world's best loved gospel singer - from her birth as a grandchild of plantation slaves up through her rise to wealth and international fame. Follow her as she performs for royalty and presidents, and even fights alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights movement.
John Pryor directed a cast that includes Christina Alexander, Johnny Sanders, and Francine Ealey Murphy.

Christine Dolen reviewed for the Miami Herald:
Though the production boasts an impressive, all-new cast, it has been staged by the same director (John Pryor, whose concept this time is more static) and features the same strong musical accompanist (Ben Collier, now joined by LaKeith Anderson). Musically, the celebration of gospel great Mahalia Jackson's life is glorious. But as with the 2006 production, there's no escaping the myriad dramatic weaknesses of Tom Stolz's sketchy yet over-long script.
The singing, however, is another story. Whether singing solos or as a trio, M Ensemble's new cast delivers powerhouse vocals.
Christina Alexander is charismatic as Jackson, finding a mixture of praise, soulfulness and jazzy blues in her sound.
Francine Ealey Murphy is both the disapproving aunt and Jackson's accompanist, Mildred Falls, but it's when Murphy delivers a showy solo version of We Shall Overcome that you really feel her power. Likewise, Johnny Sanders delivers decently differentiated performances as King, Jackson's cousin, a blind organ player and gospel composer Thomas Dorsey. But when he starts to belt Jim Crow Blues, he ascends to another level, one that transcends what his clearly talented fellow actor-singers are able to achieve.
Mahalia: A Gospel Musical plays at The M Ensemble through February 21, 2010.

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