FROM GRASSROOTS TO GLORY--THE ANTHOLOGY OF GOSPEL II, New Age Theater, at the Ivanhoe Theater. Rodney Lewis's 1998 A Piece of My Soul went from low-budget studio production to international hit in only a year. Part two of his gospel-music documentary series looks to follow in its footsteps.
This time the chronicle begins in 1927 with the radio-broadcast services of pastor A.W. Nix and others, then takes us through the Reverend James Cleveland's national choir-training Gospel Music Workshop in 1985, up to a proposed all-gospel revue at Radio City Music Hall. Along the way the narrative pays homage to such luminaries as Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, the Fairfield Four, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. There are hints of the stroll, doo-wop, and other decidedly secular musical styles in these sacred hymns, which gave birth to the pop music of the last four decades. And playgoers clap, wave, and dance in the aisles during the most exhilarating numbers.
More music than text, From Grassroots to Glory relies on video projections of period footage to locate the action, keeping the stage mostly clear for the show's ten performers, whose voices easily fill the cavernous Ivanhoe main stage. Enhancing the songs are Imani S. Foster's choreography, a four-piece band making enough joyful noise to shake the pearly gates, and humorous scenes reminding us that even the devout are human.
--Mary Shen Barnidge