Mark Spencer is spreading a message of joy, second chances and the importance of working together in his latest production.
The show "How A Grouch Stole Gospel!" opens the West Side Theatre Guild's 17th season today and runs Saturday and Dec. 14 and 15 at West Side Theatre in Gary.
"How A Grouch Stole Gospel!" was co-written, directed and produced by Spencer, who is the director of the guild.
"The (theme revolves) around gospel and the idea of faith and redemption," Spencer said, adding that the show tells the story of wealthy miser Ramses Morgan who cancels the annual gospel concert in the town he owns, changes the radio station from gospel to hip hop and devastates the residents.
"In the end, he's redeemed and the show must go on," Spencer said.
According to the director, the production is unique in that the majority of the story is told in Act 1 with the second act being more of a concert featuring musicians and comedy.
While the show is having its debut in the area this weekend, Spencer said he has more extensive plans for it.
"We'd like to take this template and take it around to other stages and places around the Midwest," he said.
The production, he said, is not just a perfect show for the holidays.
"It is a piece that is appropriate for all four seasons. And what we want to try to focus on with it is hope."
The underlying message of the piece, Spencer stressed, is that of atonement and "the hope of citizens in a community" and the importance of "working together for a positive goal."
"We're fortunate to have an eclectic mix of talent in this show," he said.
Performers in "Grouch" include the Rev. Pharis Evans Jr. as Ramses Morgan; Pastor Sieon Roberts as assistant Phillip; gospel group 21:03; Walt Whitman & the Soul Children of Chicago and WYCA's Darryll King. Spencer said comedian BLT and Chicago Luvabull Asia Dickens will also appear. In addition, there will be a cameo video appearance by Harry Porterfield of WBBM CBS Chicago.