- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

Have your days become so jammed that listening to an entire song has become a burden? Would you rather just cut to the chase and hear that high note or catchy refrain and move on to the next task? The time-crunched now have a musical to call their own, “3 Mo’ Divas,” a tornadic sampler of musical genres and eras featuring a trio of female performers with powerhouse voices and outsized attitudes.

This good-time offering from Arena Stage is designed to bring in the crowds that turned up previously for the well-accessorized gospel musical “Crowns,” which packed houses two summers in a row. Conceived by Marion J. Caffey, who also came up with the popular “3 Mo’ Tenors,” showcasing the male operatic range, “Divas” gives the soprano, contralto and other female voices their due.

Because of the vocal demands of the show — a little “La Boheme,” a little “Beehive,” a little Broadway, a side trip to Motown — six divas actually command the stage. Cast No. 1 stars Andrea Jones-Sojola, Nina Negri and Vivian Reed. Cast A boasts Gretha Boston, N’Kenge and Jamet Pittman. A small jazz orchestra under the expert guidance of pianist and musical director Joseph Joubert backs both casts. Costume designer Toni-Leslie James outfits the women in an eye-popping array of dramatic evening gowns and frocks, and set designer Dale F. Jordan classily frames them in an art deco stained glass arch.

Last Saturday’s press performance featured Cast No. 1, and all three vocalists sang superbly and harmonized beautifully. Their personalities were distinct — Miss Jones-Sojola’s rich soprano lent soulful gravity to every note, especially in “Your Daddy’s Son,” from the musical “Ragtime” and the joyful build-up of the gospel number “A City Called Heaven.” Miss Negri displayed quickness and lyrical lightness in the songs “Somewhere,” from “West Side Story,” and Duke Ellington’s “Hit Me With a Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce.”

If there were a diva among divas, it would be Miss Reed. A Broadway veteran, she sells a song as if it is her last day on earth, but the exaggerated gestures and radical song interpretations somehow work with Miss Reed’s titanic personality. Maybe the audience could get the song “Fever” is about lust without Miss Reed’s frenzied shimmies, each body part isolated and moving independently with Pilates-like carnality, but it is so much fun you just go along with it. At the same time, she knows how effective pulling back can be, as in the Billie Holliday standards “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit,” where her precise enunciation and still posture are shiveringly effective.

Some of the juxtapositions are jarring — a snippet of “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” whips into “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and the boppy rhythm of “Little Shop of Horrors” is an odd segue into the tragic strains of “Your Daddy’s Son.” And the show’s endless high notes and show-stopping moments all blur together after awhile.

“3 Mo’ Divas” exudes sass and style and contains more one-upmanship than a showdown between Patti LuPone and Betty Buckley. It’s just that at times, the “3 Mo’ Divas” speed through the songs as if the high C police are on their tails, ready to cite them for excessive use of the glissando.

By the end, you feel breathless and unsure as if you just saw a musical revue or an infomercial for a Time Life music collection.

***

WHAT: “3 Mo’ Divas,” created by Marion J. Caffey

WHERE: Kreeger Theatre, Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW

WHEN: See Web site for complete daily schedule at https://www.arenastage.org/news/3modivas/overview.shtml and click “Get tickets now.”

TICKETS: $55 to $74

PHONE: 202/488-3300

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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