God’s Trombones 

Art Forms and Theatre Concepts, Inc. sings the body electric, to full effect, in God’s Trombones

African-American preachers of the early 20th century are not always presented in the best light. Instead of being remembered as they really were — beacons of hope and generators of unity for legions of oppressed people — they are most often presented in comical caricature. God’s Trombones, a musical interpretation of James Weldon Johnson’s book of traditional Negro sermons, works and succeeds at setting the record straight. It informs audiences about what these preachers — these leaders — were really like.

While teaching a lot and including quite a bit of actual preaching, Trombones is not overly didactic. The mostly-musical production really entertains while at the same time cutting you a big slice of early 20th century African-American life.

Friday night’s performance started out a little shaky. But, no worries. This early jitters were more administrative than creative. Inexplicably, no one began manning the Footlight box office until just minutes before the 8:30 p.m. show began. As a result, people continued shuffling to their seats throughout the opening number.

The cast not only overcame the initial late-entry distractions but brought the house down with their gooseflesh-producing renditions of gospel songs. Their version of “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In,” which brought the 14-member cast out into the audience, was the crowd favorite.

The preaching included in the performance was similarly powerful. Many audience members unabashedly sent up their own accompanying “amens.” The animation-included sermon given by Deja Dee was particularly memorable.

One weird thing about Trombones was that all costume changes were made on stage. You couldn’t help but to feel like a peeping tom watching all the players undress. Such a practice served a noble purpose, however: it kept the action moving and the pacing pleasantly sharp.

Art Forms and Theatre Concepts, Inc. should be applauded (and they certainly were Friday night) for their production, which presents what was, as it was. Trombones masterfully gifts the audience with a more well-rounded image of the early 20th century Negro preacher.

God’s Trombones • Piccolo Musical Theater • $20-$25 • May 25, June 7 at 8:30 p.m.; May 27 at 11 a.m.; May 28 at 9 a.m.; June 1 at 8 p.m. • Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen St. • (888) 374-2656

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