New Horizon Theater has a show bound to appeal to anyone cherishing memories of famed 1960s soul singers Solomon Burke, Ben E. King, Wilson Pickett and Joe Tex. People stirred by those glory days would know that these performers were turning out hit records when Burke, King, Tex, Arthur Conley and Don Covey came together as "The Soul Clan," who had a short-lived success with a few singles. Then in 1981, most of them plus Pickett tried to bring the group back to life. This history is the basis for I Gotcha, subtitled "The Story of Joe Tex and the Soul Clan," created by Joseph H. Plummer and David Barr III.
If you don't know the background, no problem. You get much of it in the dialogue and program notes. More important, you get performances full of talent, energy and personality. The best parts emerge when Plummer and Barr jump out from elementary conversations and bring forth lots of samples of the songs those legendary performers made famous. But entire songs? Not much chance. Damn -- the cast has vocal talent worth hearing more often.
Interestingly, Plummer and Barr show Tex trying to keep his soul immersed in the Muslim faith. Audiences nowadays could use such reminders of devout sincerity, not poisoned by the radicalism of the vicious few. And Tex tries to convince his wife, Bilaliah, that he's striding a more virtuous path, although haunted by images of previous wives. Meanwhile, Burke, King and Pickett try to convince Tex to join the revived Clan. Meanwhile, they briefly reminisce about their past, coming up with salty wisecracks and revisiting songs from their careers.
Although not much develops dramatically, director Eileen J. Morris keeps everything vital. And the performances, rather than looking like imitations, have lives of their own. Ijasneem gives Tex appealing sincerity. As Solomon Burke, Benjamin Blakey comes across with jolly warmth. Charles "Chuckie" Timbers gives Ben E. King substantial earnestness. And, Chad Eric Smith plays Wilson Pickett as a loose-limbed goof, a hit in New Horizon's packed opening-night theater. Moreover, Camille Hairston-Lowan has appealing warmth as Bilaliah.
If that audience is anything to go by, expect future shows to feature tapping feet, vibrating chairs and floor, fully audible audience commentary, and occasional singing and clapping. But then, despite a few serious fragments of dialogue, this could hardly be considered deeply meaningful theater. Think of it more as a gathering of the faithful and a lively exposure to pop-music history.
I Gotcha continues through May 30. Grey Box Theatre, 3595 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-431-0773 or firstname.lastname@example.org