"You wanna know why I didn't go to your church? Because it was borring!" "The Gospel Truth," at the Beverly Theatre, isn't state-of-the-art music drama, but it does try to insert a real story between its 18 songs, rather than the usual sandwich filling.
It's Sunday morning at the Good Shepard Baptist Church and the Rev. Charles Taylor (Johnny Brown) is beaming because today's sermon will be preached by his newly ordained son, the Rev. Vincent Taylor (Ricke Howell).
The smile fades when Vincent starts scolding the congregation for having fallen asleep at the switch, with the clear implication that it's Daddy's fault.
This leads to a steamy exchange of views between father and son, with the other Taylors also getting in on the act: sister Denise, who drinks (Peggy Ann Blow) and Mother, who usually keeps her mouth shut (Pat Hodges).
Here composer-lyricist William "Mickey" Stevenson shows that he can set individual voices bidding against one another so as to raise the emotional stakes of a situation, which is the difference between a theater composer and a mere tunesmith. Elsewhere, dramatic values in "The Gospel Truth" take a back seat to the need to get the crowd clapping.
The first couple of numbers, for example, could suggest the spiritual torpor that Vincent thinks he finds in Daddy's congregation. But they are as up as anything in the show. And the happy ending comes far too easily, considering that the Taylors really did seem to have problems, especially Denise.
In the end, then, the tunes call the tune. Maybe that's inevitable in a gospel show. Director Cliff Roquemere makes sure it's a well-prepared one. The soloists throw themselves into their songs and the chorus holds them steady, while throwing in some ultra-suave choreography a la The Temptations. Why should the Devil have all the good moves?
"Nobody knows what a minister's family goes through," somebody sings out. "Amen," sighs a woman in the audience, who has obviously been there. This show is not high culture, but it gets across.
Performances are at 9404 Wilshire Blvd. at 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, and at 7:30 p.m. Sundays ; Saturday matinees at 4 p.m., Sunday matinees at 3. Closes Nov. 1. Tickets $24-$26.50. (213) 274-6755.