Review: BORN FOR THIS Boldly Reminds Us to Choose Faith and Family Over the Excesses of Fame
From the time Benjamin "BeBe" Winans was a child, he knew he was destined to be a gospel singer. Watching his four older brothers entertaining audiences made the young boy's dream even more desirable. Choosing to follow his faith on the road to fame, the devoutly Christian BeBe and his younger sister CeCe decided to join Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Praise The Lord Network in Pineville, North Carolina, when they were still in their teens. The story of how their road to fame evolved is now being presented in BORN FOR THIS at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica through August 6.
This new musical features original music by six-time GRAMMY® Award-winning artist BeBe Winans, book by Charles Randolph-Wright and BeBe Winans, and is directed with passion by Randolph-Wright (director of the Broadway and West End runaway hit Motown: The Musical), and choreographed to perfection by Warren Adams. And the show is blessed with one of the most remarkable groups of triple-threat performers I have ever seen, making it an event not to be missed!
"BeBe Winans writes incredible music and has an equally incredible story to accompany that music," shares playwright-director Charles Randolph-Wright. "When he and his sister left Detroit for The Carolinas as teenagers, the ultimate coming of age happened and unlikely friendships developed. People who seemingly had nothing in common found a way first to sing together, then become family. Those unique partnerships changed and moved people - something we need right now."
Although I never watched their program, I do remember that Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were wildly known almost as much for their outrageous personalities and sartorial style as their devotion to preaching the gospel of Jesus. It is easy to see why the pair became an unlikely surrogate family for the two teenagers from Detroit raised on that same belief, as they rapidly became the hottest stars in televangical America. But for the naïve siblings, especially BeBe, it's not an easy lesson learning how to reconcile the temptations of fame and fortune with the things he ultimately values more.
It's a wildy funny yet emotional journey toward self-discovery, told with great music and outstanding performances by siblings Juan Winans and Deborah Joy Winans (the children of Carvin Winans, Sr. and Deborah Winans) who portray their aunt CeCe and uncle BeBe with the utmost respect, magical stage presence, and the most amazing vocal pipes. What a treat to watch a real-life brother and sister portray a famous pair of siblings from their own family!
And I cannot offer enough praise for the performances of Kirsten Wyatt as the outrageous Tammy Faye Bakker, herself a caricature in her own right. Wyatt commands your attention whenever she takes the stage. In fact, I dare you to keep track of her many colorful ensembles thanks to costume designer William Ivey Long! Wyatt wears them well and adds the perfect touch of gusto and over-the-top presentation to her every song and scene. As her husband Jim, Chaz Pofahl brings the necessary duality to the role as the dutiful husband and religious leader who cheats on everyone. But you will still care about them, especially when they stand up to harsh criticism from within their own group for the inclusion of black performers on the show, especially after they become the featured singers and recording artists.
In BORN FOR THIS, the Winans family includes Mom and Pop (Nita Whitaker and Milton Craig Nealy, both of whom deliver standout solo number performances), youngest siblings (out of 10) BeBe and Cece, and their quartet of older brothers, Michael (Jonathan Burke), Marvin (J. Daughtry), Carvin (Desmond Sean Elllington, who also portrays CeCe's husband Alvin), and BeBe's mentor Ronald (Brad Raymond). In the group's every interaction, their emotional connection is so real you can't help but wish the best for all of them. That is a true sign of a successfully written show!
While every supporting actor in the company of 20 are stars in their own right, kudos go out to Alison Whitehurst at Penny, the beautiful blonde Praise The Lord back-up singer who boldly crosses racial lines to date Bebe, and Kiandra Richardson who channels Whitney Houston during later recording sessions with BeBe and Cece after his songwriting skills catch her attention. On their first tour, Whitney Houston sang background for the siblings -- proclaiming herself their "sister" and setting the tone for her own special career. That moment, with all the glitz and glamour, is a highlight in the production!
Music Director, Conductor and Main Keyboardist Jaret Landon rocks the house with the 30-song score, making it difficult to believe there are only seven musicians in the orchestra. The ever-changing, movable set design by Neil Patel, with lighting design by Jason Lyons, sound design by John Shivers, and projection design by John Narun, combine beautifully to create the many various locales, both homey and religious, in the production. The scene changes take place so quickly, in fact, you will wonder how the actors backstage possibly had enough time to change into their rainbow-hued costumes, which they do more times than I could count. What a treat it would be to watch the marathon backstage costume and scene changes to see how stage manager Kurt Hall managed to coordinate all the craziness.
BORN FOR THIS continues through August 6, 2017 on Tues-Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday-Sunday at 2:00pm and 7:30pm, at The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St. Santa Monica CA 90401. Limited free onsite parking is available. Tickets are available at thebroadstage.org, by phone to Patron Services at 310.434.3200, or at the Box Office beginning three hours prior to performance.
Photo credit: Ben Gibbs
More Winans Background Information:
BeBe Winans and Cece Winans are the first true Christian crossover artists to hit the mainstream. They appeared frequently on national television -- from The Arsenio Hall Show to Good Morning America to The Oprah Winfrey Show -- where they have taken their message and presented it in a way that touched, moved and inspired wide audiences. BeBe and CeCe are the first brother and sister to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
BeBe and CeCe have nine successful gold and platinum recordings and in 1995 they began to explore their solo endeavors. Since then, BeBe has become known as an inspirational, R&B, and popular vocalist, songwriter, and producer, renowned as the breakthrough artist to bridge the language of his roots in the church with a chart-topping, award-winning career spanning audiences universally throughout all genres.
Along with his seven solo albums with guest appearances from friends as disparate as Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, David Foster, Anita Baker, best friend Whitney Houston and members of the Winans family, BeBe is known for his jaw dropping performances on some of the most important and star-studded musical specials of the past decades. BeBe, with his sisters, brothers, parents and on his own, has achieved an iconic status with the audiences he has moved and encouraged through the Winans' brand of popular inspirational song.
He is an Executive Music Producer for the OWN Network's latest scripted series, Greenleaf; host of his own radio show on the Heart & Soul Channel (68) on Sirius/XM Radio Networks on Sunday Mornings (9am ET/7am PT); author; actor in motion pictures including friend Denzel Washington's, The Manchurian Candidate; and star of productions like Broadway's Oprah Winfrey Presents The Color Purple; with Chaka Khan amongst his credits.
BeBe Winans has won six GRAMMY® Awards (three solo and three with sister Cece Winans), ten Dove Awards, six Stellar Awards, four NAACP Awards (three with CeCe and one with 3WB with brothers Marvin and Carvin) and 3 Soul Train Music Awards (2 of them with sister CeCe).