TRAIN IS COMIN', Chicago Theatre Company. With an ensemble as uniformly excellent as the ten performers the Chicago Theatre Company has assembled and gospel music as stirring as the 25 or so songs included here, all it takes is the basic skeleton of a plot to create compelling theater. And that's what playwright McKinley Johnson has provided, telling the story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who performed around the world in the late 1800s to raise money for Fisk University. Though in the beginning they struggled with racism and poverty in America, several years later the choir, made up of former slaves, was performing before the Russian czar and Queen Victoria. Johnson's characters are appealing and sympathetic, though their interactions are depicted somewhat too schematically; the drama is rarely as riveting as the musical numbers, which include stunning a cappella renditions of "These Are My Father's Children," "Get on Board," and "Keep Me From Sinking Down."
CTC, which premiered this show in 1996, has trimmed about 20 minutes from it. Even so, a couple of passages are noticeably plodding, especially during extended sequences of dialogue and the feel-good ending, which ties up the plot's loose ends a little too neatly. But there are few shows out there now that can compete with this one in terms of family musical entertainment. --Adam Langer