SING, SISTER, SING, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. A program note calls this musical a work in progress. And as such this African-American variation on The Jazz Singer has much commercial potential. The story traces the fortunes of the Holmes sisters, Vanessa and Deanna, who have been groomed by their ambitious mother for careers in gospel music–their progress is cleverly illustrated in a photomontage accompanied by a hymn sung first by children, then by increasingly mature voices. As the play opens, the married Deanna’s talents are restricted to church competitions, while the rebellious Vanessa sings in nightclubs, estranged from her unforgiving mother.

David Sheppard packs a few too many issues into the script, and the generic songs (with lyrics by Sheppard and music by Walter Thomas) need to be better integrated with the text (particularly when the characters are unsympathetic). But the theme–finding one’s way in a world rife with conflict–is universal, and director Kemati Janice Porter eases Sing, Sister, Sing over the occasional rough spot. She’s assisted by a reliable cast and particularly sharp-edged performances from the versatile Valarie Tekosky as the matriarchal Corine Holmes and Alesia V. Prince as her sensible sidekick. Lorynda E. Taylor’s Vanessa radiates charm, Jacqui Thomas’s Deanna dignity, and both sing up a storm, making us hope for a reunion satisfying to all.

–Mary Shen Barnidge