Rated 4.0

For the past three Januaries, a locally grown musical called And the Dream Goes On! has drawn big audiences during a cold, wet month that isn’t known for theater attendance. Last March, several artists associated with that show, including writer/director Lisa Tarrer Lacy, composer Charles Cooper, choreographer Wanel Thomas and actor William Miller, launched a new show, Evangelize. And they staged it in just about the last place you’d expect to find a new black gospel musical: Roseville. The show drew enthusiastic comments from those who saw it, but many Sacramentans didn’t make the trip.

Evangelize is back, this time at a church in Midtown Sacramento, in what amounts to a semi-staged concert version. Modern sanctuaries have lighting and sound systems that rival those in theaters, and cloth-covered seats like the Mondavi Center.

Cooper’s score, on second hearing, feels like a familiar friend. Songs range from the lyrical “I Had a Vision Last Night” and the dramatic “Time Has Passed” to the toe-tapping gospel finale. The man has the right stuff; this score is better than some recent offerings on the Broadway Series. Cooper’s working familiar genres—blues, hip-hop and gospel—but his songs radiate natural appeal and lodge in your memory.

Lacy’s book is a zesty, humane comedy, set in a socially conservative black church where only men preach. Righteous Sister Angela wants to change that; the humor springs from the subterfuge as the hardliners try to stop her. There are some tart verbal exchanges and spontaneous-sounding zingers. (Listen for the line about “Little Tupac.”)

This is an appealing, good-natured community show with several good performances: the dapper Miller as Pastor John, confident Cynthia Douglas as Sister Angela and glowering Elaine Lenae Douglas as Sister Amorala. The five-piece band plays well, and the big choral numbers generate genuine uplift.