Too bad the 'Ways' sound system fails to match play's fine singing

THEATER

November 07, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

The program for "Wicked Ways" lists Jesus Christ as executive producer, but only those who favor message-laden gospel musicals are likely to find this show heaven-sent.

Currently playing a one-week run at the Lyric Opera House, "Wicked Ways" is written, directed and produced by Michael Matthews. And like his other effort, "Momma Don't," its chief thematic virtue is its willingness to tackle one of the ugliest contemporary plagues -- drugs.

However, the anti-drug message would be more compelling if the characters and structure were better developed. Instead, the ostensible central character, an aspiring drug dealer called Snap (Cordell Moore), is too often on the sidelines -- or absent entirely. And his father (Dereck Brinkley), who holds the dual authority roles of police captain and church deacon, is portrayed as a buffoon.

There is no surprise to the conclusion -- only how long it takes to get there (nearly three hours). Inspirational endings are a given in this genre, and they evoke the same cheers as the demise of a villain in an old-time melodrama.

However, the most rousing part of the show is the music -- even though its amplification threatens to break the sound barrier. As Snap's mother, Camille Singleton can tease a note until it explodes. Keith Staten, star of the gospel group, Commissioned, brings tearful fervor to several numbers. And Mr. Brinkley displays a falsetto so high it could probably shatter glass.

The success of a host of touring black gospel and comedy shows proves they attract a large and eager audience, which was reinforced at the Lyric on opening night. But this audience deserves more -- more carefully constructed material, more polished production values and, in particular, a more modulated sound system to show off the voices.

"Wicked Ways" is unlikely to convert many sinners, but if you're suffering from a seasonal head cold, the sheer volume of this show is guaranteed to clear your sinuses.

"Wicked Ways" continues at the Lyric Opera House through Sunday; call (410) 481-6000.

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