If you found out you could hear great voices including Greta Oglesby, T. Mychael Rambo and Rajané Katurah raising the roof, without the aid of microphones, in a venue about the size of a McMansion living room, would you: A. Refuse to believe it; B. Buy tickets immediately; or C. Cancel your plans for the next month so you could see it on the regular?
Pick any of the above, because "Thunder Knocking on the Door" is happening through April 5 and it is something to hear. The blues/pop musical with songs by Keb' Mo' and Anderson Edwards is performed, like all Ten Thousand Things shows, in the round, with chairs arranged around the playing space just a few rows deep.
That means you are close enough to hear every harmonized run when Rambo and Oglesby blast the sexy, funny "Please Believe Me." Or when the cast lifts "Hold On," which has the burnished feel of a gospel song that's been around forever. Or when Oglesby and Katurah, whose voice sounds like it's made of honey and hope, blend on the shivery mother/daughter duet "I Wish I Knew."
The songs are the highlight of director Marcela Lorca's sensual production of "Thunder Knocking on the Door." This was Mo's first musical theater venture and it could be argued his tunes don't work the way musical theater songs should, often reiterating what's in the dialogue instead of expanding on it. (They were, in fact, inserted into a Keith Glover script, replacing standards.)
But they're catchy, varied numbers and the cast, assisted by music director Sanford Moore and guitarist Deevo, could not be better. The songs are augmented by Brian Bose's sinuous choreography, which has a Ray Charles backup dancer feel as it incorporates '60s moves such as the Pony, the Madison and the Twist.
The story is a variation on the one about a blues guitarist who makes a deal with the devil at a mythic "crossroads," somewhere in the Mississippi Delta. Jaguar Dupree (magnetic Bose, who makes even his dialogue sound like music) has lost one of his late father's beloved guitars in a riff-off with Marvell Thunder (Ronnie Allen).
Although the show takes a while getting there, it gradually falls to Jaguar's blind sister, Glory (Katurah), to battle Marvell for the remaining guitar and for her sight. Oglesby plays the siblings' wry, plain-speaking mother and Rambo is hilarious as their randy uncle, turning the word "evil" into "eville" and "You make me tingle" into "You make me taaaangle." His and Oglesby's chemistry is so vibrant that I want to see them play everybody in everything, everywhere.
The show is not perfect, but with its relatable themes, powerful music, character-based humor and modest technical demands, it is a near-perfect fit for Ten Thousand Things.