Sing Hallelujah is a good idea that somehow goes astray. You really want to see it succeed, even though its lesser elements leave something to be desired.
There’s certainly good precedent for a gospel-based show; the much larger California Musical Theatre, the presenter of Sacramento’s Broadway Series and the Music Circus, has staged several successful shows during the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Project in January, including this year’s Keeping the Dream Alive, with outstanding musical leadership by local choral director Precious Bell Craft.
Sing Hallelujah draws on a powerful songbook—including “Swing Down, Chariot,” “Working on a Building,” and “Turn Your Radio On”—each a gospel standard that is part of the basic backbone of American culture.
But the musical direction in Sing Hallelujah isn’t always high-powered. And the songs are thinly spread over the show’s sketchy first half, which detours too long into feeble church-pew comedy. The situation involves a new pastor at the Shady Creek Baptist Church, but headstrong church members try to pull rank over the new kid in the pulpit. Such conflicts are common, but this situation runs out of comic fuel pretty fast. The funniest bit is Corey Rickrode’s gabby boob-tube and movie genealogy, concluding with the apologetic statement, “I need to get out more.” This gets a huge laugh. Otherwise, most of the first half makes you wish the cast would stop talking and resume singing.
The second half’s better, mostly because there are more songs. A white male quartet, tending toward the barbershop style, is belatedly introduced. The men sing well enough, but they are gremlins in the sound system. The acting improves with the appearance of savvy Mark Hoffman as moody barfly Harlan, who’s stopped attending church. But unless you’re very forgiving, these midstream upgrades are too little, too late.
I do hope Garbeau’s tries another summer gospel show—it really is a good idea. But next time, I hope it does a show with more music and less connective tissue.