Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Bridges of Madison County


Juan Winans, Kiandra Richardson,
and Deborah Joy Winans

Photo BY Greg Mooney, courtesy Alliance Theatre
Impassioned African-American gospel singing by a powerful cast is the main reason to see Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story, now in the Kreeger Theater at Washington's Arena Stage. Audiences familiar with this music and its leading performers will certainly get more out of the experience than those (like me) coming into it cold.

Benjamin (BeBe) Winans is a singer, songwriter, and music producer, not to mention a member of a prominent family in the gospel music world. In telling his story, he wrote original music and lyrics and collaborated with director Charles Randolph-Wright on the book; beyond that, his nephew Juan Winans plays him and his niece Deborah Joy Winans plays his sister Priscilla (CeCe). They have the voices and the presence, having been raised in the family business.

BeBe and CeCe are two of the 10 children of Pop and Mom Winans (Milton Craig Nealy, Nita Whitaker), a devout Detroit family whose members demonstrate their faith through music. BeBe decides it's time to become a performer himself when he sees four of his older brothers tearing up the stage, blending Christian testimony with Motown moves. Before long, CeCe and BeBe are off to North Carolina to join the cast of the "PTL Club" empire of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (Chaz Pofahl, Kirsten Wyatt) in its early days.

This is a life story filled with drama, but Winans touches very lightly on any possible areas of controversy. Wyatt is a hoot as the helium-voiced Tammy Faye and Pofahl is adorably goofy as Jim, but the portrayals are deeply affectionate rather than satiric and the script tiptoes past the ethical concerns that ultimately brought down PTL. Similarly, Whitney Houston (Kiandra Richardson), who became an informal part of the Winans family, radiates serenity as a star hanging out with the people who really know her. The introduction of African Americans into the blindingly white world of PTL, the temptations of worldly pursuits (like going to a movie and learning to enjoy beer), concerns about romantic entanglements—all make brief appearances but barely have an impact.

Randolph-Wright keeps the actors (and elements of Neil Patel's set) in constant motion as Warren Adams' choreography shifts from the synchronization of the Winans brothers, through the Lawrence Welk-style moves for the lily-white PTL singers, to BeBe and CeCe's synthesis of secular and sacred forms of performance. Legendary costume designer William Ivey Long does inspired work, especially with the coordinated outfits for Jim and Tammy Faye in period-appropriate colors. (Hot turquoise! Intense peach!)

Arena Stage
In collaboration with Alliance Theatre
Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story
July 1st - August 28th, 2016
By Charles Randolph-Wright and BeBe Winans
Featuring original music and lyrics by BeBe Winans
Jimmy Ray/Record Executive/SM Voice Over/Dance Captain: Kurt Boehm
Michael Winans/Howard: Dyllon Burnside
Carvin Winans/Alvin: Desmond Sean Ellington
Edith/Ensemble: Gracie Jones
Bob/Josh/PTL Announcer Voice Over: Nick Morrett
Pop Winans: Milton Craig Nealy
Jim Bakker: Chaz Pofahl
Ronald Winans: Brad Raymond
Whitney Houston/Sister Jones/Reporter: Kiandra Richardson
Marvin Winans: Michael Stiggers
Mom Winans: Nita Whitaker
Penny: Alison Whitehurst
CeCe Winans: Deborah Joy Winans
BeBe Winans: Juan Winans
Tammy Faye Bakker: Kirsten Wyatt
Supplemental Extras: Greg Joubert, Ronald Woodhead
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright
Choreographer: Warren Adams
Music Director: Steven Jamail
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


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