"Don't Get God Started!" is being billed as a new gospel musical, but "musical" may not be the correct term. The show, which was plagued with a late start and a multitude of technical problems when it opened Tuesday night at the Warner Theatre, is more aptly described as an adult Sunday school lesson punctuated with rousing gospel songs.
After a production number rendered largely unintelligible by the sound system, a pair of actors garbed as maintenance workers appeared and complained bitterly, in biblical cadences, about today's young people. The pair seemed intended to represent Adam and Eve while also serving as a Greek chorus.
Their concerns were illustrated by a series of sketchy but vivid vignettes about contemporary brutality and vulnerability: Silk, a "sex addict," confessed his lack of self-control; a husband whose cocaine addiction ruined his family's comfortable life was confronted by his wife; a hairdresser who supported her young lover through law school learned she had been used all along.
These brief portraits were harrowingly graphic, but often quite funny too, thanks to the actors, who gave every line a flourish and brought a fierce conviction to each scene.
After these contemporary tribulations were explored, singers Vanessa Bell Armstrong and Be Be Winans, both Grammy-winning gospel artists, joyously delivered songs like "Don't Turn Your Back" and "Change Your Nature" that offered the promise of redemption and release through Christianity. Armstrong in particular was a natural wonder, with a voice that combined the best of Patti LaBelle and Jennifer Holliday while avoiding their excesses.
Unfortunately, the production's considerable energy was dimmed by erratic lighting and a problematic sound system. The band and the singers performed remarkably but were overamplified to the point of unpleasantness, and the actors sounded as if they were speaking from inside a grain silo.
Despite the evening's general artlessness and technical shortcomings, "Don't Get God Started!" is a successful evening of inspirational theater, powerfully communicating its message to an audience that responded with revivalist fervor.
Don't Get God Started!, book by Ron Milner; music and lyrics by Marvin Winans. Directed by Ron Milner; music director, Stephen Ford; settings, Llewellyn Harrison; lighting, Shirley Prendergast; costumes, Victoria Shaffer. With Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Ernie Banks, Conni Marie Brazelton, Marilyn Coleman, Chip Fields, Glynn Turman, Be Be Winans, Marvin Wright-Bey. At the Warner Theatre through Aug. 2.