The panacea for D.C.’s sizzling summertime has arrived at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater, where enough electricity is being generated to keep the whole town cool. Source of all this power is the majestic voices of “Three Mo’ Divas,” a celebration of some 400 years of music. OK, maybe it’s partly because there are actually six dynamic divas performing in rotating trios to keep their vocal chords fresh.
“Divas” was created by director-choreographer Marion J. Caffey as a spinoff of his 6-year-old touring show “Three Mo’ Tenors” — itself inspired by “The Three Tenors.” The key distinction, other than the obvious, is that “Divas” is a multiracial act aiming for greater crossover appeal.
Show, which debuted originally at San Diego Repertory Theater, is being remounted in a co-production with Buffalo, N.Y.’s Studio Arena and the Citadel Theater in Edmonton, Alberta. Other new touches include a colorful array of diva-appropriate dresses by Toni-Leslie James and a pronounced air of sophistication from Dale Jordan’s classy black-and-chrome set and Richard Winkler’s moody lighting.
The theatrical concert is a fast-paced tour through eight musical styles — opera, Broadway, jazz, blues, soul, new school, spiritual and gospel. Its six performers, Gretha Boston, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Nina Negri, N’Kenge, Jamet Pittman and Vivian Reed, are classically trained and versatile singers who are not only at home with Puccini and Verdi but can deliver a proud “Proud Mary” and just about anything in between.
To keep the spirited divas on an even keel, Caffey has carefully selected material to showcase the virtuosity of each artist, dispensing individual moments in equally measured doses. What’s more, the trios receive equal billing (amusingly, they are listed alphabetically as cast A and cast 1), with two opening nights held so critics could catch either or both acts.
It’s easy to see that the revolving casts double the pleasure. The two concerts are essentially identical, featuring an intriguing mix of faves and less familiar material that explores every musical mood and beat while some improvised lyrics introduce and gently mock the special collection of divas onstage.
But the most enjoyable moments are the knock-’em-dead solos reserved for each artist. The perf caught featured Boston, N’Kenge and Pittman, pure professionals all, with captivating stage presence in both ensemble and individual moments. Their bustling tour through the eight musical styles is embellished with Caffey’s sparing but effective choreography and a few props, such as a vintage microphone.
Boston’s spotlighted moments included smoky renditions of “Mean to Me” and “Downhearted Blues,” while D.C. resident Pittman soared in her self-accompanied arrangement of “Everything Must Change.”
The spunky N’Kenge, a tiny woman with an amazing soprano voice, stole the show with a zoot-suited piece of musical history, Cab Calloway’s classic “Minnie the Moocher.” She followed it up with another dynamic number, “Miss Celie’s Blues” from film “The Color Purple.” Another highlight was a memorable take on “Strange Fruit” by Boston and Pittman.
While the carefully scripted concert could benefit from some ad-libbing and spontaneity, it offers an unparalleled collection of voices and material that’s just right to kick the summertime blues.