By Darlene Donloe
The story of BeBe Winans is being told through song in the rousing musical, Born For This, currently enjoying a successful run at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
There’s some incredible sangin’ going on to deliver the story of how BeBe went from being in the shadows of his famous brothers, The Winans, to a stint on the PTL Club, to eventual stardom as part of a duo with his equally talented sister, CeCe Winans.
Yes, there is sangin’ going on, not singing. Singing would not give this show justice. The singers in this show are sangin’ their hearts out.
Two of those singers are Nita Whitaker, who plays Mom Winans and Kiandra Richardson, who plays Whitney Houston.
In the show Juan Winans plays his uncle, BeBe. Deborah Joy Winans (Juan’s sister, who also stars in the series Greenleaf) plays their aunt, CeCe Winans.
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.
|Juan Winans and Deborah Joy Winans|
|CeCe and BeBe Winans|
Born For This, book by Randolph-Wright and BeBe Winans, featuring music and lyrics by BeBe Winans, plays at the Broad through August 6. The show, directed and co-written by Charles Randolph Wright (Motown: The Musical) premiered last year at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta and the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
I recently caught up with Nita Whitaker and Kiandra Richardson to talk about the show.
|Nita Whitaker and Milton Craig Nealy (Pop Winans)|
DD: Nita, how did you go about developing Mom Winans and what age are you playing?
NW: I’m playing her in her 40s and 50s. To develop her I watched videos on YouTube to get her movements and to get her mothering sensibilities. I just wanted to observe her.
DD: What did you find by observing her?
NW: It was about finding her voice. There isn’t a lot of video of her speaking. So there’s no dialogue to really study. I wanted to get her physicality. She was an incredible woman who raised 10 kids. I wanted to her sense of authority and humor.
DD: So what is your impression of Mom Winans?
NW: She’s a grand lady. There is nothing but pride when you get to see your children fly.
DD: What was the one thing you wanted to get across to audiences?
NW: I wanted to make her real and human and a flawed human being. I wanted to capture all the things that make her who she is.
|Nita Whitaker (foreground) and Milton Craig Nealy rehearsing 'Born For This.'|
DD: Your song, Seventh Son, brings down the house.
NW: Thank you. The first workshop of the show the song wasn’t in the show. I remember thinking, ‘this is a mom who would pray for her children. She needs another song. Two weeks before the workshop Charles (Randolph Wright) was in London. He called BeBe, who was about to get on a play. He said he needed a song for Mom Winans. All along my feeling was that Mom needed to get her moment. She gets it with Seventh Son.
DD: It’s an incredible song.
NW: I wanted the song to be a prayer for all of her children. That’s exactly what we got.
|Juan Winans, Kiandra Richardson and Deborah Joy Winans in 'Born For This'|
DD: Kiandra, you’re playing Whitney Houston, who is someone very well known. What kind of research did you do to develop the role?
KR: I didn’t want to mimic Whitney. I just wanted to bring the essence of Whitney. I just watched a lot of her videos. I wanted to capture some of the things Whitney would do. I studied her mannerisms. I studied what she would do with her hands.
DD: Before you got the role of Whitney, what did you think of her?
KR: I know a lot of people look at her as being larger than life, but I’ve always looked at Whitney as a human being.
DD: The show pretty much depicts her as being down to earth.
KR: When studying her it brought it all together for me. She was not a glamorous person in real life. That was left for the stage. She was real.
|Juan Winans, Kiandra Richardson and Deborah Joy Winans|
DD: What was the biggest challenge?
KR: As an actor you want to give glimpses of whoever you’re portraying. You always want to find good things, even if you don’t agree with some things surrounding the person. As an actor you have to tell the story from your perspective. As an actor you when you’re playing an angel, you find the devil in them and vice versa.
DD: How do you prepare to go on stage?
KR: I prepare with prayer and meditation. I’m listening to meditation and watching Whitney videos.
DD: Where do you go when you’re on stage?
KR: I get lost in the story. I’m delivering it. I just get lost.
DD: What is your favorite part of the show?
KR: I think it’s the closet scene. It’s when I’m showing them the clothes they should use for their upcoming tour. It’s when Whitney is talking to BeBe and CeCe and she gets to just be Nippy (Whitney’s nickname), the girl from Newark. She tells them both not to live for fame.
DD: How did you come to get this role?
KR: I was auditioning for American Idol in 2015. I got my golden ticket. A week before I was supposed to start, I had to fly out to audition for this show. I auditioned. The next day they offered me the role. I was in a beauty supply store when BeBe called me. He said, ‘Girl, you need to come do this show.’ We talked for about 30 minutes. I prayed on it.
DD: You passed on American Idol? That had to be a hard decision.
KR: It was the best decision that I could have made. I have no regrets.
Born For This, The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th St, Santa Monica, CA, 7:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 2 and 7:30 p.m., Sat.-Sun. through Aug. 6; www.thebroadstage.com or 310 434-3200.