Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
The New McCree Theatre has another winner on their hands with the currently running musical Give Me That Old Time Religion. Unfortunately, today is the final day of the run, but if you hurry, you can still catch it twice at 2:00 and 7:00 pm. Written and produced by the group’s executive director, Charles H. Winfrey, the play’s mission – “To tell the African American Story in the African American Voice” – is accomplished with passion and polished style.
Veteran McCree director Cathye Johnson returned from Missouri specifically to direct this production. Her stamp and style is all over this wonderful show as the eleven players sing, move, dance, emote and generally never miss a beat as they bring various characters to life with ease.
Beginning with chorus numbers of “Old Time Religion” and “Go Down, Moses”, the first solo “Wade in the Water” found Sunkaru Clifford Sykes emerging as a stunning character player. He would do more and be more as the show progressed.
Three women and eight men made up the cast and most were onstage throughout as one song followed the next with short transitional conversations linking them to their place in history. “Slavery ended, but the singing never did.” Terrific numbers like “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “Amen” marked the end of one era, the emergence of gospel groups, and what is described as the Gospel Highway.
“People Get Ready” launched the quartet style vocals of Sykes, Charles Brown, Fredrick N. Fife and David Lott who first sang as the Pilgrim Travelers. They demonstrated the acapella style known as Jubilee (harmony without instrumental accompaniment) with their pristine rendition of “Shine On Me”.
Barbara Armstrong held her own with two linked songs by Dorothy Love Coates, “Every Day Will Be Sunday” and “You Can’t Hurry God”. She was supported and often gave the floor to the clear vocals of LaToya Massey and Alverine “Motown” Simpson.
Although only appearing in the second half, Dwayne Towns was well received by the Friday audience with his Johnny Taylor rendition of “The Love of God”.
As the show drew to a close, Terence Grundy brought passion and gusto to “Straight Street” and Fife’s wonderful falsetto-style shined with “Walk Around Heaven”.
Friday night’s audience reacted with enthusiasm and delight as this talented cast, abetted by the casual narration of John Vincent, told the Black history story through the music that defined the progressively evolving cultural genres.
Give Me That Old Time Religion performs twice today at 2:00 and 7:00pm. For tickets and information contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or online at http://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com/that-old-time-religion.html