Sanctified Delivers Joys for Audience's

Odell B. Ruffin | 10/27/2010, 9:14 p.m.
The world is full of gospel music stage plays touting more drama than message, or...
nique), with L to R (back) William T. Newman, Jr. (Sir), Ellis Foster (Bobby), Joshua Nelson (Mister), and Bernardine Mitchell (Sarah) in the new gospel musical comedy SANCTIFIED at Lincoln Theatre. Photo Credit: Stan Barouh

The world is full of gospel music stage plays touting more drama than message, or more celebrities than substance. This couldn't be further from the truth when it comes to the gospel musical Sanctified being staged at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Northwest. Addressing serious issues that face small churches in the Black community, Sanctified is winner of six 2009 Black Theater Alliance Awards including the August Wilson Award for Best Writing of a Play (Musical / Adaptation), Best Production (Musical or Revue), Best Direction (Musical or Revue), and Best Musical Director.

The storyline of Sanctified follows the East Piney Grove Baptist Church through financial hardships and the longshot of regaining their economic footing and membership by updating the look and sound of their choir. In the midst of preparations, elders and non-secular innovation collide.

"The performance was joyful and excellent. One of the most pivotal parts of the play for me was when the cast began singing the theme song," said theatergoer Ann Gilshirst.

Gilshirst, 45, of Spencerville, Md. drove nearly twenty miles to see the show and said it was definitely worth the trip. The play digs deep into the conflicts within the Black church, according to its producer Proteus Spann, in hopes of shedding light on the state of the Black church as an institution. While many have touted the demise of the Black church, Sanctified encourages audiences to remember what makes the church the backbone of the race.

"The script moved me because I remember my grandmother teaching me how to pray and my grandfather being a preacher. He told me you have to struggle to get what you want," Spann said.

A key theme of the play is the rise and phenomenal success of mega-churches, celebrity bishops, and the manner in which smaller Black churches have had to fight for survival. Smaller, more intimate churches have had to re-examine the traditional ways of worship in many instances, or risk losing members.

"I was drawn to the script because of the complexities of the mega and small churches. Each of them have their benefit, which makes for a very interesting story," Actor John McClure, Jr. (Pastor Harold P. Jones) said.

The story is anchored beautifully by an elaborate set that resembles an old Southern Baptist church and converts the audience into members of the congregation. The play was commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, which was designed to explore the traditional world of gospel music and how it has morphed and been constantly revolutionized by hip-hop and R&B music.

Composer Rollo A. Dilworth delivers a multi-layered score of gospel, hip-hop and R&B, all of which provide solid momentum for the play. With all of that, Dilworth was still able to evoke the roots of gospel by incorporating a few traditional, a cappella Spirituals, performed flawlessly by actress Bernadine Mitchell.

The technical aspects of the production are seamless particularly in dramatic scenes.

"It's a good spiritual comedy with realistic and serious moments. I expected a nice, clean and funny show and that is exactly what I received," said Willie Pearson, 77, of Southeast.

Sanctified runs through Nov. 14 at the historic Lincoln Theatre. For more information, please visit www.thelincolntheatre.org or call 202-397-7328.