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St. Mark Players' "To Whom It May Concern" just may save your soul. 

Heavenly "Concern"

Maybe it was the setting — the immaculate main hall of St. Mark's Episcopal Church — that reduced me to an over-emotional sap. Or the acoustics — the sacred reverberation that gives church music that sonorous strength. But most likely, it was the voices — 13 of Richmond's sweetest, strongest and most exuberant voices — that had me teary-eyed from the very start of the St. Mark's Players' production of "To Whom It May Concern."

Whatever it was, this show touched me, impressed me and, best of all, entertained me. From the minute teen-age phenom Suzanne Casey stands to sing "When I Consider the Heavens" to the rousing reprise of "Ain't Nobody Got a Bed of Roses," this charming musical grabs hold of your soul and fills it up with a truly joyful noise. Adding resonance to the engaging tunes are the personal reflections and revelations offered by a wide variety of characters, including a curmudgeonly grandfather, a worldly homeless man, and even a self-doubting priest. The show tackles big issues of faith and love and the meaning of life, but its strength lies in the way it asks the questions, not in the answers provided. With a fervor as uplifting as a traveling gospel show, this production will raise your spirits and put a song in your heart.

If the church setting makes you nervous, don't worry. Playwright Carol Hall doesn't offer one philosophy as the be-all or end-all here. The plotless play follows a parish priest (Fernando Rivadeneira) as he leads a congregation through a Christian mass, but is interrupted by the thoughts — sometimes skeptical and cynical — of the parishioners. Among the more cutting remarks are those of a cantankerous Granddad (Tye Heckman), who points out the inconsistencies and inadequacies of religion along the way. The underlying theme involves the universal power of love, but it is dramatized in challenging ways, as in the cleverly ironic love ballad, "Ain't Love Easy," by the quarrelsome married couple, Fay and Bob (played by real-life couple Anita and Tony Sharpenstein).

Not all of the stories are well-scripted, but the play's deficiencies are overcome by the exceptional voices in this production. Shalimar Hickman-Washington could bring down the walls with her vocal power but uses it with effective restraint in her moving delivery of "I'll Only Miss the Feeling." With her penetrating soprano, Lisa Kotula makes a soaring show stopper out of "Miracles." Richard A. Parker offers a rousing rendition of "Ain't Nobody Got a Bed of Roses." In solo numbers both sweet and funny, Nancy McMahon matches an expert comic touch with her hearty voice.

And these are only the highlights. Director Joe Pabst and musical director Jimmy Hicks work with this impeccable cast to make every scene a winner. At one point, Granddad says, "The only thing I learned in church is that you can be saved by a song." A trip to St. Mark's to see this show will certainly inspire and delight you, and may just save you, as
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