First it was "Panama Hattic," then "Lady in the Dark" and now it is "Cabin in the Sky", first it was Ethel Merman, the Gertrude Lawrence and now it is Ethel Waters. With these Big Three Boston will be able to look back upon one of its best seasons of musical stage. And with "Cabin in the Sky" alone, the year wouldn't be exactly dull. Albert Lewis and Vinton Freedley have blown into Beantown a breath from the South, a pageant-like play of dusky dancing, spiritualistic singing and vivid settings, which has left critics winded right and left.
Of course, with Ethel Waters in there to roll the orbs, flash ivory and vibrate the larnyx, it is hard to see how any production could fail to ring the chimes. When she, as the religious and patient Petunia, sings Vernon Duke's "Taking a Chance On Love" and "Cabin in the Sky," life is a different thing. But even she is unable to steal the whole show. Rex Ingrain, whose face and voice will be most recently remembered as that of the Genii in "The Thief of Bagdad," is about as devilishly good as Lucifer, Jr. could be. His be-winged opponent in the contest over Little Joe's destination after death, the Laws's General himself, is sung and acted, with the experienced touch of Todd Duncan. Little Joe, the wayward, crap-shooting husband of Petunia and object of the struggle between the Lawd and the Devil, is a happy-go-lucky masterpiece in the hands of Dooley Wilson. Katherine Dunhan heats up the atmosphere with every step as Georgia Brown, a Dixieland Danger who makes Little Joe forget the Devil. When she and her troupe dance the Egyptian Ballet, stoking boilers in Hades for eternity somehow loses its force as a deterrent to forsaking the straight and narrow.
It is difficult to say enough about "Cabin in the Sky." And whatever you say, you can't recapture in words the magic of appeal, the imaginative realism of its political journeys to the evangelist's dire threat of Hell and glowing promise of the Pearly Gates. It may be that it has succeeded in finding the spirit of the Negro more truly than ever before; if it is has at all fallen short of this ideal, it suffers none as pure entertainment. It's worth pawing your roommate's dress clothes and flunking an hour exam to see "Cabin in the Sky."