“Tellin’ It On the Mountain” – Black Theatre Troupe

This review aired on KBAQ December 16, 2013


Black Theatre Troupe, Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center
Phoenix, AZ

The Black Theatre Troupe has an impressive theater on East Washington Street, the result of the recent Phoenix cultural bond issue.  But the productions the Troupe has staged in its new home rarely, if ever, match the facility.  This is certainly the case with their current Christmas show, “Tellin’ It On the Mountain,” a disappointing collection of traditional and some unfamiliar holiday tunes shaped around Lyn Richardson’s silly and predictable plot that does nothing to showcase the songs.  The production’s failure is not the fault of enthusiastic actors who sing splendidly but struggle with the limited acting chores.  It’s sad, but the two-hour show drags on for what seems like an eternity.

Sisters Dean, a former sister’s act who “brought gospel music to the streets,” squabbled and separated.  Their well-meaning brother brings his sisters back together to make a Christmas CD to raise money so the group can recover from old debts.  Surprise, but these sisters again fight so the reunion is a challenge.  By the end, the album is produced.  It’s that kind of predictable, bland, and boring claptrap.  There’s not a spark of creativity, an ounce of flair, or a tad of curiosity anywhere.  Since the plot and ridiculous misunderstandings never prove interesting, “Tellin’ It On the Mountain” drags on and even the songs don’t help the plot progress because each tune stops the action as the show bumbles forward.

David J. Hemphill’s rudimentary staging is like the show so there’s nothing that keeps audiences engaged.  The simple sets and bland costumes add nothing and the recorded orchestra sounds canned and artificial.

The cast is the show’s most distinguishing asset.  Walter Belcher is a take-charge guy who plays brother Russell forcibly as he keeps his sisters focused on the CD.  Chanel Bragg, as the group’s lead singer Teresa, brings style and great vocals to the part.  Ebony Green is the youngest sister, Shandi, who takes the brunt of the group’s haggles as she stresses the importance of the family.  Brittanee Perkins plays Vicki, the pushy sister who’s become a star.  Playwright Richardson narrates the second half as she reads unnecessary exposition that would be better handled through character interaction rather than lecturing.

“Tellin’ It On the Mountain” never catches fire so it is not a rousing holiday tribute.  It continues through Sunday, December 22.  For tickets, call the Black Theatre Troupe box office at 602-258-8129 or order tickets online at www.blacktheatretroupe.org.

Grade: D