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“85 Minutes of Hallelujah Joy”

A group of people in white, beige, and gold clothes sing around a low, flat, gray rock.
Mark Spates Smith, Shari Addison, Jerica Exum, Cherise Thomas, Ariana Burks, Juwon Tyrel Perry, Aeriel Williams, Eric A. Lewis, Isaac Ray, Eva Ruwé, Jessica Brooke Seals, and Shantina Lynet’ by Michael Brosilow.

Cry hallelujah – Opening Night of The Gospel at Colonus was an awe-inspiring, soul-stirring success! Reviewers and audience members alike are singing the praises of Gospel, calling it “brilliant,” “phenomenal,” and “the one [show] you must see this year.”

While this production runs until June 11th, performances are already filling up. Get your tickets before they’re gone!

“A gorgeously produced, deeply inclusive and richly sung staging…Kelvin Roston Jr., a frequent Newell collaborator who sizzles with life here, as does Ariana Burks as an earnest Ismene and Aeriel Williams as a regal Antigone. As Theseus, Mark Spates Smith runs the service and Shari Addison, the nationally known Gospel singer playing both a chorus member and a soloist, and a longtime veteran of this particular piece of theater, is just thrilling.

It’s such a cliché in theater reviewing to praise fusion that I worry the power of what this particular production has achieved here inevitably is diminished in that telling. Suffice it to say, then, that this work clearly is born in long preparation and deep thought and the show has uncommon integrative power and thus a clear capacity for healing. All that and your ears fill with beautiful sound from a choir and a live band.

In an era of resolutely secular, and often small, theater, Court has put up something with an expansive vision and a directorial approach that respects what Telson and Breuer achieved but gently improves upon it for the current moment. It’s a South Side rebirth for “Gospel at Colonus,” and thank whatever God you worship for that. May it live on.”

— Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune, 4 out of 4 stars

“Court’s Gospel at Colonus gives us a glimpse of transcendence, hope, and revival, thanks to a soul-stirring ensemble and a tight five-piece band, delivering their music from above the stage like a session group from heaven.”

— Chicago Reader, Reader Recommended

“There are so many high points from a talented ensemble, a most entertaining entity this writer enjoyed thoroughly.  Juwon Tyrel Perry portrays The Friend, who first tells Oedipus he cannot enter a holy place, in a stunning vocal turn. Kai A. Ealy as the evil son Polyneices offers wonderful character work, full of depth and deception.  As dual Choragos whose advice Oedipus accepts, Eric A. Lewis and Shari Addison deftly lead the citizenry in alternating moments of huge passion and quiet choral harmonies, all rooted in the Pentacostal tradition of call-and-response that is nothing if not exciting to watch here.  Everyone deserves mention – Jessica Brooke Seals as a knowing preacher of sorts, augmented by a Greek chorus (Jerica Exum, Cherise Thomas, Isaac Ray, Shantina Lynet’, Eva Ruwé) who takes the captivating music to emotional heights in a totally unique take of the Court’s classic theatre mode.

The Gospel at Colonus is co-directed with an elegant combination of big choral strokes and intimate individual moments by Mark J.P. Hood and Charles Newell with associate director TaRon Patton. A sparse scenic design by John Culbert; the colorful Raquel Adomo costuming; the wonderful, attentive shafts of sharp light in one moment and warm, enveloping light in another by Keith Parham; the complimentary sound layers designed by Sarah Ramos – all eloquent pieces to a puzzle of thick design and story.  All of these elements, expert as they are, grabbed onto the coattails of the exciting, heartfelt gospel blues from the five-piece unit led by Mahmoud Khan. Along with the audience, one could even see Production Stage Manager Kate Ocker clapping along from the stage manager’s booth. That’s how infectious it is – spectacular and from the heart.”

— Picks In Six, Highly Recommended

“Court Theatre closes its 2022/2023 season with what can only be described as a jubilant musical and dramatic celebration of life. I defy audiences to sit quietly, casually and passively just observing this pulsating production. If you aren’t clapping your hands, you’re bobbing your head to the beat; if you’re not actively participating in the kind of call-and-response tradition found in a Pentecostal Church service, you’re at the very least emotionally engaged. Theatergoers will find themselves filled with exultation at this ancient story brought into the twenty-first century. And if none of these things apply, you might want to check your pulse.”

— Chicago Theatre Review, Highly Recommended

“The play is a musical rendering of the Oedipus Story like none other. This musical is masterfully directed by Mark J.P. Hood and Charles Newell…I highly recommend The Gospel at Colonus as an uplifting tale of Oedipus performed by a spectacular ensemble of actors and singers that lifted the audience on opening night. It will fill your soul.”

— Third Coast Review, Highly Recommended

The Gospel of Colonus isn’t a story about God, but the spiritual music performed in this play will make you feel like you’re in a church service….As a Baptist minister and a theater critic, it was the first time I had to force myself to stay in my seat during a review and not start dancing and singing at a play, but the Colonus choir had my spirit internally shouting…Dynamic singing in flawless harmony and impeccable acting provide 85 minutes of hallelujah joy — a soulful Greek chorus audience[s] will never forget.”

— Let’s Play Theatrical Reviews, Highly Recommended

“Directors Charles Newell and Mark J.P. Hood with Associate Director Taron Patton [have] curated the best voices in gospel music available in the Chicagoland area…I heard the most complicated, beautiful vocalizing I have ever heard on stage. I thought my guest was going to stand up and do a holy dance – she came close…It was especially uplifting to see women in this male dominant production as more than placeholders…Bless yourself and see this show.”

— Buzz Center Stage, Highly Recommended

“This modern interpretation of Sophocles’ classic myth is told in rhythmic, uplifting, and expressive song, featuring great soloists and responsive spiritual music, which moves the audience not only emotionally but to a locus in the fantasy world….In all, The Gospel at Colonus is a performance to remember!…This show is pure magic!”

— Around the Town Chicago, 5 out of 5 stars

“Here, laden with the wisdom of the ancient Greeks and the ambrosia throatiness of gospel singing, [Kelvin Roston Jr.] shedding his guilt is positively transcendent. Co-directed by Charles Newell and Mark J. P. Hood (Hood also handling music direction), and backdropped by the loveliest bare-bones chapel you’re likely to see for a while (by John Culbert), this Colonus is serious business, and, one can hope, will have serious legs beyond Chicago.”


“It’s certainly a bold and ambitious approach to the trilogy, and these leads are all great performers…the show probes, via an African American perspective, complex and deeply human problems — sins, familial strife, notions of free will and fate — on the way to celebrating life.”

— Chicago Sun-Times, 3 out of 4 stars

“Music, movement, and electric connection…tells the audience everything timeless and worth knowing about the story…For a show that is moving, uplifting and devastating, it’s somehow hard to talk about individual performances, as this depends so deeply on the way the entire cast feeds and sparks off one another.”

— Talkin’ Broadway

“There is more singing than speaking, with each cast member displaying tremendous vocal power and range through long, melismatic strings of sung notes.”

— NewCity Stage

“You will leave The Gospel at Colonus feeling uplifted or at least reveling in the joyous music, stellar singing and fine acting.”

— Hyde Park Herald

Posted on May 22, 2023 in Productions

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