Keeping the Dream Alive

Rated 4.0 Keeping the Dream Alive—this year’s effort by California Musical Theater’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Project—is a bit of a departure from recent efforts.

These last few years, the MLK show has revived a Broadway musical with a track record. This year’s show is an original, framed by several local talents: writer Anthony D’Juan, choreographer James Wheatley, gospel choirmaster Precious Bell Craft and stage director Lisa Tarrer Lacy.

The show also contains more biting observations—along with a streetwise, satirical sensibility—that lend urgency to the show’s message. Stated plainly: We still live in a society sharply divided by racial issues, past and present, with Senator Trent Lott’s recent fall from grace after his all-too-candid reminiscence for the segregated past being just one case in point.

Keeping the Dream Alive is not a plot-driven story working from a defined beginning, middle and end. It’s more of a quilt-style construction that incorporates panels of music, dance, spoken word and stagecraft. You also could think of it as a kaleidoscope that mixes live performance with glimpses of the past, present and dreams—from slavery to the future.

D’Juan’s written contributions—mostly monologues—are allegorical and often poetic, mixing black storytelling styles from past and present. He uses humor in a disarming way, but there’s a slicing edge behind the smile. A few bits are too long or self-conscious, but others are entirely gorgeous. There are wonderful viewpoints in this script. D’Juan has the gift; he’s also learning how to live with it.

Craft, outwardly shy, directs the choir through several blockbuster songs. Truth be told—without discounting other contributions—it’s worth your while to attend this show if only for the music. Gospel singing—choral and solo—is among America’s greatest creations. Whether or not you believe, this music has power.

Wheatley’s choreography, though not a dominant factor, is a big plus. And Lacy works smart visuals into the direction.

When all the elements integrate, Keeping the Dream Alive takes on a life of its own. That doesn’t always happen; sometimes you’re left with the mere coexistence of good singing, writing, choreography and direction. But wherever you drop in, this show is a good place to be. And when you get to the parts where synergy kicks in, it’s most satisfying.

California Musical Theatre deserves a major “thank you” for making this annual effort a part of its season. —Jeff Hudson

Keeping the Dream Alive plays at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and at 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are free; you can pick up as many as four tickets per person an hour before showtime. California State University at Sacramento’s University Theatre, 6000 J Street. No phone reservations. Through January 19.