In an unexpected departure from her company's successful run of historical musicals, Jackie Taylor has whipped up a rollicking tale of spiritual struggle and redemption. Black Ensemble's "The Message is in the Music" explores God and heaven, the devil and hell, all accompanied by a soulful soundtrack.
The subtitle for "The Message is in the Music" is "God is a Black Man Named Ricky," and that should give a hint about the production's tone. We may be dealing with God ad Satan, but there's still the signature Black Ensemble humor and effervescence to make the play appealing to a diverse audience. Ricky, of course, is Rick Stone, the commanding and smooth-singing actor noted for his memorable portrayals of Rufus Thomas and Howlin' Wolf in previous Black Ensemble productions. Resplendent in a white-pin-striped suit against a white satin set, Stone opens with "and God said, let there be light. That's not what I said! Want to know what I said?" Diving into the classic Impressions tune "It's Alright" (Have A Good Time)," Stone establishes the upbeat mood of the play.
From there the story follows Stone, known as "He" in the play, his other half "She" (France Jean-Batiste), heavenly sounding angels (Rhonda Preston and Dawn Bless), right-hand man Trinity (a compelling Trinity Murdock), Lucifer (Donald Barnes) and his band of demons (Kylah Frye, Michael T. Bartlett and a charismatic Carrie). It seems that Lucifer is plotting to take over the earth and Trinity is worried that he may succeed.
Although the story's familiar, this musical stays fresh by offering original renditions of soul and pop classics. Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is imbued with gospel flavor and Murdock wrings every drop of pain out of Friends of Distinction's "Going In Circles." Between the music and dancing, positive messages of faith and good expectations are woven in, resulting in a thoroughly accomplished production.