By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
The first time Delilah Rashell Williams staged her musical “God’s Trying to Tell You Something” was at the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles. It sat 500 people. Only three showed up.
“I was so embarrassed,” Williams recalled. “I was ready to throw in the towel, I was done.”
Being new to theater, Williams didn’t know how to properly advertise her show. She just wanted to escape the humiliation and told the stage manager to send everyone home. Before she could leave, the cast surrounded her, insisting that the show must go on. She pointed to the dismal turnout.
“They said, ‘No, we don’t care. We believe in the show, we believe in you,’” Williams shared. “Because of their insistence, I found myself not only doing it, but grabbing an extra costume and actually doing the show with them.”
A year later they opened at a Houston venue to an audience of 3,000.
Fast forward three decades and the locally born playwright is bringing the classic production back to stages across the country. She’s looking to fill seats in Sacramento at the Safe Credit Union Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Oct. 15.
Sacramento is the fourth stop on a national tour. Previous stops included Birmingham, Alabama, Fresno and Oakland. Williams has been back living locally for the past 15 years. She’s used to finding performers from entertainment hubs such as Los Angeles and Atlanta, but for the first time cast actors in the Sacramento area, which she called a “wonderful challenge.”
In a series of vignettes, “God’s Trying to Tell You Something” sets the African American experience – tragic and triumphant – to music.
“The show actually starts in slavery and sometimes we forget, that’s where we come from. We were slaves,” Williams said. “We weren’t our own people. They counted us with the cattle – as less than the cattle.”
Sojourner Truth then takes the stage, as do fellow icons Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman.
Williams doesn’t want to give away too much for those who haven’t seen it, but said scenes featuring the famed abolitionist are show stoppers.
“There’s a scene where Harriet Tubman comes and she’s not expected at this particular plantation,” Williams said. “They’re caught off guard. They want to go, but one young lady cannot find her mom. That scene is called ‘Not Without My Mama.’ It’s a powerful scene.”
Updating the show for modern audiences means not shying from or sugarcoating the realities of violent police involvement – incidents that claimed the lives of African Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Audiences also can expect to be “taken to church” with recently added music.
“We just added ‘The Messenger’ in Oakland and Oakland was just on their feet,” the playwright said.
“That was not the end of the show; that’s just how powerful it is. It’s a wonderful piece that basically tells us that if God can bring you, bring us, bring anybody through the atrocities of slavery, He can bring us through absolutely anything.”
An acclaimed writer, producer and director, Williams has worked with Tyler Perry and David E. Talbert credits her with helping to launch his own theater career. Her shows have included guest appearances by notables including Grammy winners Yolanda Adams, Edwin Hawkins and Kevin Vaughn, and even Rev. Al Sharpton.
Williams’ other works include “Stop the Noise, Bring Back The Music” and “Somebody Ought To Tell God Thank You.”
“‘God’s Trying to Tell You Something’ was the biggest one, and it was my first show,” she said. “God just blessed that. I take no credit for it.
“We went through a year of struggle out of Los Angeles. Then we were picked up by the big boys. The people that handle Patti LaBelle, Anita Baker and Sinbad, they picked our show up. We went on to play to 1.5 million people.”
For Williams, “God’s Trying to Tell You Something” still feels like a faith walk. People asked her to take her classic off the shelf and back into theaters. She prayed on it and how she’d pay for such an undertaking. God sent her an investor who believes in the work and she was back in business.
“I walk by faith and not by sight,” Williams said. “It’s a blessing. It blows my mind.”
The local performance is at the Safe Credit Union Performing Arts Center, 1301 L St., adjacent to the Sacramento Convention Center. Formerly known as the Community Center Theater, the space recently got a $120 million makeover. Touted as a “premier performing arts venue” it seats 2,442.
“I wanted to be in it and therefore I am, so I believe in God to fill it up,” Williams said.
For more information, call 916-599-0029 or visit godstryingtotellyousomething.com. Tickets for the 2 p.m. show are on sale at Ticketmaster.com.