This Far By Faith | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

This Far By Faith 

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THIS FAR BY FAITH, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. What started in 1997 as a simple play with music has now evolved into a full-blown musical. Of course, the story always leaned in that direction: an Afrocentric minister and his estranged pop-idol son reunite after facing duplicitous, power-hungry greedheads in their respective congregations. This latest incarnation of the work dispenses with many dramatic conventions, conveying the plot through song and dance as much as dialogue.

Fortunately this approach suits playwright Marylene Whitehead's comic-book heroes, who are nothing if not sharply defined. The issues she addresses are all the more immediate, and her allegorical characters all the more vivid, in this quick, slick treatment. Director Runako Jahi has assembled vocalists who give Rufus Hill's lightweight score enough warmth and sparkle to sell sunshine in Sarasota--especially Alex Everett as pop star Buddy Blue. Their performances are enhanced by a three-piece combo that provides running commentary on the action and fills the tiny ETA stage with sweet jazz riffs and philharmonic-size backbeats.

The cast is uniformly excellent, but look for show-stealing performances from Shirley Wahls as the sturdy clan matriarch, Rhonda Preston as the seductive Cayenne (whose "best clothes are made of asbestos"), and Anthony Wills Jr. as a struggling sinner with hidden gifts. --Mary Shen Barnidge

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