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STAGE REVIEW : Caesar, Whitfield Can’t Save the Musical ‘God’s Trying’

The production of Delilah Rashell Williams’ gospel theatrical musical “God’s Trying to Tell You Something” is touted as beginning a new era of theater presentations at the Palladium Hollywood. Before that can happen, some changes have to be made.

Though the existing sound system may be perfectly acceptable for big dance bands and audiences who are primarily interested in moving to the beat, it is totally un acceptable for much of a theatrical presentation. There’s a painful degree of distortion at any kind of volume, it fades to nothing below a shout, and both instrumental and vocal overtones constantly crash into each other in this acoustic wilderness.

It also all but cancels out most of the effectiveness of the only two reasons for seeing this production--gospel great and multiple Grammy winner Shirley Caesar and entertainer David Whitfield. The system can’t begin to handle the subtle shadings and explosions of energy of these two performers. They try valiantly to surmount the sonic obstacles, but the system and its operators are against them. Caesar lights up the room whenever she walks onstage, and Whitfield keeps the crowd jumping; it would be nice to hear them other than through a pillow darkly.

The opening night performance began an hour late, and the show--apart from its technical difficulties--wasn’t worth the wait. Seen six months ago under the title “Black Folk in Song” at the Westwood Playhouse, it also bears a striking resemblance to “Voices,” which played the Embassy Theatre earlier this year.

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Tied together by a narration that sounds mostly out of a textbook, the first act is a pageant of black history from pre-slavery up to the beginnings of the civil rights movement. The second act is a mishmash of pointless comic sketches, including carryings-on in church and at a Sunday picnic, and a kid who wants his mother to pay him for doing chores.

It culminates in a lengthy series of middling impressions of memorable black performers, a stirring tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s memory, and a stomping if loosely produced gospel finale. It’s already been done, and better.

At 6215 Sunset Blvd., today and Thursday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m.; $26; 213-962-7600.


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