Writer-lyricist Sonia Levitins musical (written with composer Kevin Anderson) about the exodus of Ethiopian Jews to Israel is a work with so much heart, it seems almost churlish to find fault with director Donald McKayles halting and at times overearnest staging. The play tells the story of a tribe of African Jews living a hard life in the mountains of Ethiopia for the past 2,000 years. The first scene, in which a pair of elderly African yentas meet to debate a possible engagement, is hysterical. After a chance meeting with a pair of American Jewish tourists, beautiful village maiden Desta (Terry Norman), her older brother, Joas (Jermel Nakia), and their younger sister, Almaz (Marcella Lewis), decide to make the journey across the border to claim Israeli citizenship as part of the Law of Return. Along the way, theyre forced to heart-rending sacrifices. The topic of the evacuation of the Ethiopian Jews makes for intrinsically engrossing subject matter. Sadly, though, Levitins book could use a severe pruning to cut a number of extraneous incidents, while McKayles ponderous blocking has the performers standing around doing nothing for extended sequences. Still, scattered amid flatly presented patches are some vibrant musical numbers that amalgamate The Lion King and Fiddler on the Roof in an ambitiously subtle mix of African rhythm and Hebrew melodies. In her characters farewell to her native village, Normans How Can I Say Goodbye is quite powerful. Other wonderful singing turns come from Nakias Joas, and also from Paula Bellamy-Franklin, playing an old village grandmother who makes the long journey.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: June 5. Continues through July 20, 2008