3 Mo' Divas!
Also see Susan's review of Ellington: The Life and Music of The Duke
Both casts have their highlights. One, comprised of Tony Award winner Gretha Boston, N'Kenge, and Jamet Pittman, is admirably balanced, while the other showcases two-time Tony nominee Vivian Reed; as accomplished as her castmates, Andrea Jones-Sojola and Nina Negri, are, she tends to put them in the shade. Marion J. Caffey, who created the production, earlier designed Three Mo' Tenors, a similar compendium with male voices.
The production begins with the three divas, backed by pianist e'Marcus Harper, trading off lines in Puccini's aria "Quando M'En Vo" from La Boheme (familiarly known as "Musetta's Waltz"). From there, each woman performs one solo aria, followed by a medley of Broadway and movie songs and more individual numbers, backed by a swinging combo led by Harper. The second half is devoted to jazz, blues, soul, R&B, and spirituals, including some shimmering a cappella harmonies.
While Boston is better known for her work on Broadway, she reveals a noteworthy mezzo voice in her solo performance of the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen. To show the range of material in the production, Boston also shines in "Strange Fruit," "Mean to Me," and "His Eye Is on the Sparrow."
The seemingly ageless Reed is a Juilliard graduate with experience on Broadway dating back to the 1970s. She commands attention with a passionate "Pace Pace Mio Dio" from Verdi's La Forza del Destino; a riveting "God Bless the Child"; a sex-kittenish "Fever"; and a simple, straightforward "The Way We Were."
Pittman ably reveals her skill in genres beyond her accustomed opera, wringing the heart with "Your Daddy's Son" from Ragtime (itself an aria of sorts), and accompanying herself on "Everything Must Change." Jones-Sojola, another opera singer, scats well enough on "How High the Moon," but she comes across as mannered on "Your Daddy's Son" and the spiritual "A City Called Heaven."
N'Kenge and Negri get more chances to knock around, specifically when N'Kenge puts on a zoot suit a la Cab Calloway for "Minnie the Moocher," and both of them do their best Tina Turner struts in "Proud Mary."
The "Divas Soul Medley" shows the progression of the sound from the girl groups of the early 1960s, through Patti LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade" and the Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men," to Beyonce's "Crazy in Love." The "Broadway/Movies Medley" is less coherent, tossing in hardly enough of "Hello, Dolly!" and "Memory" to justify their place in the mix alongside "Dreamgirls," "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "Big Spender," and "Little Shop of Horrors."
Dale F. Jordan has designed a sleek Art Deco setting, all chrome curves and highly polished black platforms. Richard Winkler's lighting design ranges from atmospheric to vaguely psychedelic, and Dale L. Jordan's costumes and Bettie Rogers' hair and wig designs shift to meet the needs of the music.