Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Bridges of Madison County
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 entanglementsall 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!)