One weakness is the grim and haunting song "Strange Fruit," about lynchings. First recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939, it was never in Jackson's repertoire, but my objection is that it's out of place here, a sullen orphan that doesn't fit the emotional and narrative context of the storyline. A more significant problem structurally is a confusing attempt toward the end to turn Satch into some sort of supernatural messenger prompting a premonition in the young Mahalia of what will be her last train ride to Chicago, in a funeral car. The intrusion is a bit of manipulation that contrasts with the skillfulness of what has come before.

This version of When Mahalia Sings, though it still needs work, will be especially enjoyable to those who saw the bare-bones effort two years ago. With more songs and spirit, this production is a stirring tribute to the singer that Harry Belafonte described as "the single most powerful black woman in the United States."

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  Topics: Theater , Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Lydia Angel Cooper,  More more >
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