|Juan Winans and Deborah Joy Winans|
Photo by Greg Mooney
By Darlene Donloe
The rehearsal hall at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica is abuzz with activity. Actors are stretching, some are vocalizing, many are milling around.
In a week all of them will be center stage for the opening of Born For This, a musical about the life and career of Grammy® award-winning, gospel sensation BeBe Winans.
Juan Winans, who plays his uncle, BeBe, in the show, comes over to introduce himself as does the show’s director and co-writer Charles Randolph Wright (Motown: The Musical).
Juan and his sister, Deborah Joy Winans, who stars in the series Greenleaf, rehearse their duet, Lord Lift Us Up. Their harmony and obvious emotional connection is palpable.
Nita Whitaker, who plays Mom Winans, brings down the house during rehearsal when she sings Seventh Son. The song is so emotional, even fellow cast members who have heard the song on numerous occasions, are wiping away tears.
In Born For This, Detroit teenagers BeBe and CeCe Winans experience the ultimate in culture shock when they are invited to join Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Praise The Lord network in Pineville, North Carolina. The Bakkers become an unlikely surrogate family as BeBe and CeCe rapidly become the hottest stars in televangical America. Eventually crossing over to mainstream fame, BeBe must learn to reconcile they temptations of fame and fortune with the things he values more. It’s a wildly funny yet emotional journey toward self-discovery.
Born For This, book by Randolph-Wright and BeBe Winans, featuring music and lyrics by BeBe Winans, opens July 11 at the Broad. The show premiered last year at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta and the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
I recently spoke to Juan (JW) and Deborah Joy (DJ) about the show and what audiences can expect. They are both relaxed and fresh-faced as they don that classic Winans smile.
|Deborah Joy Winans|
DD: What is it like when you’re playing your own relatives?
JW: We’ve spent so much time together that it’s easy to step into these roles. This is a family that we love and have much respect and admiration for. I’ve spent a lot of time on stage with BeBe in the performance aspect so I get to pick up some things. And, of course, some of it is genetic. That has made it enjoyable and fun. It’s a great opportunity to relive their journey. We even found out some things we didn't know.
DD: What are some things you didn’t know?
JW: How much racism they faced in North Carolina in the early 80s. We didn’t know how much it played how much they had to conduct themselves. Facing racism at 15 or 16, it shapes you. It shapes your outlook. I think it impacts your art. That’s really important. It gives you a different perspective.
DD: What did you learn personally about BeBe or CeCe? Did something come up that you didn’t know?
JW: We spent a lot of time with them. You look at the things they faced and challenged and you get a greater sense of their resilience and fortitude. You understand their character and realize who they are. You can’t get this far in this business without being resilient and having character. You have to tap into that reservoir. When you think about what my grandparents gave them and what our parents, my dad, Carvin, gave to us. You see what has happened through the generations and realize where you come from.
DD: What happens to you when you hit the stage? Are you fully aware of what’s going on around you?
JW: I try to put myself where BeBe would be. I’m just responding to what is happening on stage because something different can happen every night. That’s the best part, and fun part, of doing the show.
DJ: I’m fully aware. By the time I hit the stage I’ve spent a lot of time in rehearsals fine tuning the nuances and the character. When you step on stage you need to be fully present. I know what I’m doing. I like to be fully present.
|(l-r) Juan Winans, Kiandra Richardson and Deborah Joy Winans|
Photo by Greg Mooney
DD: How do you prepare to go on stage? Is there a ritual?
JW: We certainly pray as a company. Me and Deborah pray before we go on. Physically we warm up and try to be ready. There are parts of the show that are emotionally challenging. It can overtake you. Being focused on our calling and our gift is very important.
DD: What is your favorite moment of song in the show?
JW: It depends. I love singing the title song, Born For This. It’s an amazing song written by an amazing songwriter, if I may say so myself. Also the closing number as well. The life that it brings.
DD: What do you want the audience to leave with? Why should they come see this show?
JW: The great part about this story is that we touch on things and ideas that are valuable to all of us as human beings. I want them to leave inspired. Find their purpose. Aspire to love one another and take care of one another. That’s a very relevant message in the times we find ourselves in.
DD: You have performed this is Atlanta and in D.C. Will you switch up anything for the LA audience?
JW: I’m excited to be here. I used to live here. It is great to be back. Challenge to be in epicenter of media and entertainment. They are not going to cut us any slack, so I’m up for bringing the A game every night.
DD: I have a bug to pick with you both, in fact your whole family. How is it that everyone in the family can sing? That’s just not fair.
JW: You’re going to have to talk to God about that.
DJ: Yep, you gotta take that up with the Lord.
Born For This, The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; 7:30 p.m., Tues.-Fri.; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun. through Aug. 6; www.thebroadstage.com, 310 434-3200.