A slickly packaged concert along the lines of Broadway's "It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues," the gospel revue "Higher and Higher" provides plenty of theatrical firepower through the infectious energy and diverse styles of its outstanding vocal ensemble. Low-fat, high-octane show returns home to the U.S. after several years' touring in Europe (where it was called "Inspiration"); prospects are good for successful gigs where outreach to church communities could stir steady biz.

A slickly packaged concert along the lines of Broadway’s “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues,” the gospel revue “Higher and Higher” provides plenty of theatrical firepower through the infectious energy and diverse styles of its outstanding vocal ensemble. Low-fat, high-octane show returns home to the U.S. after several years’ touring in Europe (where it was called “Inspiration”); prospects are good for successful gigs where outreach to church communities could stir steady biz.

Some occasional testifying aside, “Higher and Higher” eschews patter in favor of pure musical exaltation. Things get moving right away with a series of traditional gospel tunes spotlighting soloists in the five-man, six-woman Harlem Gospel Singers Choir — Darin Myers leads the men in a delightful “I’m Just Holding On,” Roni Suzette Bobien delivers an excitingly throaty “It’s a Long Hard Way,” and Myers pulls out all stops on “A Change Is Gonna Come,” whose message is underlined by background projections of images from the Civil Rights Movement.

The first half ends with a thundering version of Frank Loesser’s “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls,” which triggers some fun if overextended byplay between choir master David A. Tobin and flamboyant pianist Anthony Evans.

Richard Bellazzin’s rumbling bass and Cassandra White’s operatic soprano lead an a capella spiritual medley, followed by the sinuous soul of “Free” and a roof-raising “Unspeakable Joy.”

Though top-billed, onetime Duke Ellington protegee and gospel circuit/stage vet (“The Wiz”) Queen Esther Marrow functions here as more of a guest star, bringing an R&B diva presence and vocal pyrotechnics to each act’s opening number. She returns to seize the spotlight in a climactic set, pumping up the adrenaline on the exhilarating title tune.

Higher and Higher

(GOSPEL REVUE; THEATER ON THE SQUARE; 740 SEATS; $ 40 TOP)

Production

SAN FRANCISCO An Intershow Records AG, Sundance Prods. Inc. and Jonathan Reinis Prods. presentation, in association with Electric Factory Concerts Inc. and Adam Friedson and David Friedson, of a revue in two acts. Supervising producer, Rosanne Kirk. Production concept, Kirk and Alfred Gallman; musical concept, Queen Esther Marrow; musical staging and

Crew

Choreography, Gallman, Leslie Dockery; musical director, Terry Burrus; choir supervisor, David A. Tobin; costumes, Austin K. Sanderson; lighting, Nick Richings; sound, Lucas Rico Corrubia. Opened Aug. 25, 1999. Reviewed Sept. 25. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

With

With: Queen Esther Marrow, The Harlem Gospel Singers (Judy Bady, Richard Bellazzin, Roni Suzette Bobien, Darius Booker, Carlton Fellows, Alltrinna Grayson, Fran Jaye, C. Mingo Long, Darin B. Myers, Deborah Oatman, Cassandra White).
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