O. plays the title role in this play inspired by the real-life events of Depression-era Harlem evangelist Father Divine. The charismatic preacher believed that heaven was already on Earth, and that his followers would live forever if they practiced celibacy and believed he was God. His radical approach to Christianity hit a supernatural snag when his much-older wife, Mother Divine, passed away. With his back against the wall, Father convinced his followers that Mother had not died but merely wanted a body more fitting of her righteous spirit. It just so happened to be the slender body of a 21-year-old blonde bombshell.
Keep in mind that all of that is completely true.
In Vartabedian's script, the story takes a fictional but fun turn as Mother Divine seeks revenge on Father (played by
Mother clearly takes some pleasure in torturing Lester, especially after he pestered her on her deathbed -- er, death-wheelchair -- during the "Death and Taxes Duet" in the first act. In that first encounter, Lester went to Mother's hospital room to get some information about her tax-dodging husband, who owes thousands to the
In the next life, Mother uses the undercover
O. plays the perfect foil to Thompson's crazy legs and frantic demeanor. She moves slowly, but she moves with purpose. And you better believe O. knows how to deliver Mother's saucy wisecracks.
"Father's gonna be sad he got that ASS-essory," she bitingly remarks after seeing the platinum-haired "Mother in the Second Body" (played by
O. knows her way around a fantastic vocal performance as well. After all, she's a national winner on "
Honestly, there are no bad musical numbers in "Mother Divine." They may not be instantly catchy earworms, but they're all wonderfully sang with a '30s gospel flavor. The most impressive has to be "High Heels and
Davis charismatically demands the attention of Father's followers and the audience. There's no doubt he's talented, but many theater-goers may leave wanting more from him. Although "Mother Divine" is truly Mother's story, Father Divine remains a fascinating figure that piques people's curiosity. Yet in this musical, his character never really evolves until the very end. For 90 percent of the play, he's seen as little more than a dynamic, swindling orator.
His new blonde trophy wife never makes the kind of impact the audience desires either. In a play that skillfully sets up a revenge tale, theater-goers want to hate the hot replacement, but Gill forfeits the chance to ham it up as the Mother in the Second Body. Perhaps it's a directorial choice -- she was a real person, after all -- but it's not very satisfying to watch a usurper be so normal.
A lack of character development also drags down scenes centered on the young couple Arnold (
Other supporting players are given better opportunities to stand out. Equity actress
They all get their moments in the wonderfully choreographed "Rrrumba," but there are other times when the stage movement plods -- especially in the play's outset. Another nitpick: The stage lighting is fairly dim for a musical set in a colorful jovial church. These may be minor inconsistencies, but they are noticeable.
No matter how much of the material is based on real events, a story as outrageous as this one deserves more amped-up schtick than most plays.
"Mother Divine" will be performed at
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