Photo: Marc Paquette
LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS
MAHALIA – A GOSPEL MUSICAL
GOD COULDN’T SAVE THIS MUSICAL
As a concert, this Mahalia musical has all the right ingredients. Great singing by the two main characters. Missing however is a large backup Chorus that would have enhanced the Mahalia experience.
Many of the songs that Mahalia sings were written by T.A. Dorsey – and they ‘shout out to the Lord’ -- and get you in a happy, jumpy mood. Song’s like “I’m Gonna Walk All Over God’s Heaven” is one of those songs. And Jeanie Tracy delivers on most of the music – but on some, she seems to hold back. For instance the traditional Spiritual “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” – could be so much better with a rousing chorus in the background. Then -- “The Walls really would tumble down”.
The segment where Mahalia performs at Carnegie Hall is weak. You get no feeling of the excitement or the atmosphere of being in Carnegie Hall. Tracy shows what she can do with her wonderful voice – and brings the show to life with a vibrant “We Shall Overcome”. Listen, Tracy has a lot on her plate in this show. She has to sing over 26 songs -- remember lines (she narrates) the Mahalia story. She has to walk up and down stairs, which looked like it was uncomfortable. Tracy is a full figure gal.
Here’s what I think that would save this musical. Get more people on the stage to increase the excitement. The sound system is great as is – but more interest would be created with better staging. Also – I really believe that another actor to the side of the stage should tell the story. Let Tracy Sing – and she will have less to remember. As is – it is a burden for any actress or singer to remember two hours of dialogue plus sing 26 songs.
Her cohort John “Jambi” (Jam-B) Borens plays many roles (Cousin Fred, Pastor Lawrence, Blues Man, Chicago, Thomas Dorsey, Francis and Martin Luther King Jr.) And – you know what? He is spectacular. His soaring voice takes us to new heights. Also, his speaking voice is loud and clear. He would make the perfect narrator. Then Tracy could concentrate on the music.
So – here’s Lee’s Formula to save this show: John “Jambi” Borens becomes Narrator of the story. Add more singers to bring out the true Gospel feeling. Let Tracy concentrate on delivering the magnificent songs – and let her get down and dirty with them. Shorten the musical by at least one-half hour. That will tighten the show and make it even more exciting. Do something with the Carnegie Hall part – to make it glitter. Like have Mahalia enter from stage (right or left) to Klieg lights that search the sky. Hey, you can rent them.
This could be such a wonderful happy evening of entertainment with some pruning, speed it up, add more people. Throw it all in a “BandBox” -- and hooray – you will have a hit.
Others in the cast were Yvonne Cobb-Bey who plays Aunt Duke, and Mildred. She also becomes part of he chorus at times. More of her singing would also help. Charlene Moore is the talented accompanist. And John “Jambi” also plays the Organ – or at least it looked like he was playing it.
AT THE LORRAINE HANSBERRY THEATRE
RATING: TWO GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!! –trademarked-
(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook Pages. And he produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))