Curtains

Phoenix's Black Theatre Troupe Is Tellin' It on the Mountain

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See also: Orange Theatre Group's Blood Wedding Adaptation Is Provocative, Entertaining

The execution: This is where, like a spouse who keeps small injuries bottled up until the hurt explodes out of all proportion to the current offense, I will rant about incomplete, incorrect, and/or misleading promotional and program copy. It seems to be a particular problem for musicals.

Although the original buzz about Tellin' It on the Mountain was that it featured "book and lyrics by Lyn Richardson, music by Anthony Cowan [professional musician and piano instructor at East Valley School of Music] and Jennifer Robinson [former director of the Arizona State University Gospel Choir, who is still credited as providing "musical supervision" to Mountain]," every information source except Black Theatre Troupe's own website has revised those writing credits to represent the show as it is: Virtually all the songs in the play, every one of which is breathtakingly rendered by the cast, are existing contemporary and traditional Gospel numbers, with a few R&B ballads and Christmas carols thrown in.

Something happened to the concept of having new, original songs in the play, and no one's obliged to explain how or why it changed, but the writers of the songs that are used, the titles which are meticulously listed in the program, are not credited and deserve to be. And if you're unfamiliar with the contemporary Gospel genre (which is certainly not BTT's fault), you could wind up thinking many of the numbers are amazing new songs that you're honored to be hearing in their infancy. (Well, now you won't.)

Lyn Richardson is still the playwright, and she also appears in Act II as the charismatic narrator of the Christmas album that the characters Teresa, Vicki, and Shandi, estranged sisters who, five years ago, were a chart-busting, megawatt praise trio called Sister Dean, have reunited to record for reasons it's dramatically useful to leave somewhat fuzzy.

Richardson's script, which manages to be both heavy on exposition and light on explanation, is the weak link in this production. The three sisters do have a believably tempestuous and competitive relationship (though much of what humor there is comes from lukewarm responses to tired insults), and the playwright sets up an adequate cliffhanger just before intermission -- but most of the characters' individual traits are described by others rather than demonstrated by behavior.

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Julie has written for the Night & Day events calendar section since 2005. As a student at Arizona State, she received the Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout Creative Writing Award and the Theatre Medallion of Merit.
Contact: Julie Peterson