Upgrades and breakthroughs

Stare fight!

Stare fight!

Rated 5.0

Celebration Arts offers this significantly improved version of a show they’ve staged before, celebrating gospel’s great Mahalia Jackson—one of the most distinctive singers of the 20th century.

Upgrades include a potent gospel choir and a deeper sense of the historic times in which Jackson lived—as segregation was pushed back, schools were integrated, Jackson herself became a celebrity, and used her popularity to support Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement. The play traces Jackson from her dirt-poor Louisiana roots through her breakthrough concert at Carnegie Hall and final European tour. Elise Reese gives a strong performance as Mahalia, backed by James Wheatley and Elaine Lenae Douglas in multiple supporting roles. The songs—including “How I Got Over,” “In the Upper Room,” “I Will Move on Up a Little Higher”—are simply fantastic.

Mahalia, 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (no performances on December 24, 25, 26 and 31, or January 1 and 2). $8-$15. Celebration Arts, 4469 D Street; (916) 455-2787; www.celebrationarts.net. Through January 22.