February 11, 2016

The Devil and the Lord fight a war by proxy for the soul of a sweet but feckless fellow in “Cabin in the Sky,” an all-black musical from 1940 that kicks off the Encores! season at City Center. A central mission of this beloved series, now more than two decades old, is resurrecting musicals whose scores still shine even as their books have faded into irrelevance. This production — musically vibrant, dramatically a dud — for better and worse offers a prime example of the genre. Michael Potts plays the nominally central figure, Little Joe Jackson, who is on his deathbed — literally — as the musical begins. A powerfully sung a cappella version of the spiritual “God’s Gonna Trouble the Waters” (anyone who’s seen Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations” more than once could probably sing along) kicks the show into high gear on the musical front. Although the ample score is by Vernon Duke (music) and John LaTouche (lyrics), “Cabin in the Sky” features a couple of traditional spirituals, and this production also includes “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe,” a much-recorded standard written by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg for the movie version, which jettisoned many of the original songs.