If vocal gymnastics were an Olympic event, “Born to Sing!” would take the gold medal. Also the silver and bronze. The show’s four stars, supported by a chorus that could furnish the leads for the several road companies that will no doubt follow the New York production, have voices that are simply dazzling and plenty of opportunities to show them off. Is it all about the singing? Pretty much. Is that enough? You bet.
Producers Vy Higginsen (who also co-wrote the book and lyrics) and Ken Wydro (book, lyrics and direction) keep the songs coming fast and furious in this follow-up to their 1980s hits, “Mama, I Want to Sing” and “Mama II.” Interludes of dialogue that forward the plot are painlessly brief, with most of the conflict played out in duets and trios. The lyrics might not be Dorothy Fields-quality, but they serve as the blueprints these magnificent singers use in building the emotional lives of their characters. W. Naylor’s music, along with some traditional gospel numbers, provides the perfect scaffolding from which this joyful noise can be mounted.
“Born to Sing!” follows the career of gospel superstar Doris Winter (Lisa Fischer) as she puts together the company for her upcoming world tour. Doris is blown away by the audition of diamond-in-the-rough Samantha Summers (the astonishingly gifted Stacy Francis), and decides to give her a featured spot in her show as well as set her up with a recording contract. Little does she realize that Summers will be the serpent in her little paradise, despite warnings from her ever-present mother (scene-stealing, show-stopping Kellie D. Evans) and wise-beyond-her-years daughter, Dottie (Tanya Blount, the fourth, but far from least, member of this all-star vocal quartet).
Most of the time, the songs spell out the relationships in a straightforward manner, as when Samantha and Dottie attack their mutual jealousy in “Who You Gonna Blame?” But every once in a while, there’s the sense that something is missing, as in “Attention Must Be Paid,” when Doris abruptly accuses the always taking-care-of-business Dottie of never taking responsibility for her mistakes.
Lending strong support to the leads are Charles Stewart, as the chorus-leading Minister of Music (he also gets credit for the razor-sharp stage movements by the chorus), Shari Headly, as a TV reporter covering the tour, and Charles Perry, as an auditioner who thinks he’s Tina Turner. And again, enough can’t be said in praise of the chorus, collectively credited as the Reach Ensemble.
Set designer Mike Fish has provided a multitiered set that elevates Doris above the chorus when the evil Samantha stirs dissension in the ranks, and his backdrop slides always help us to know where in the world the tour has landed (gondolas for Venice, sumo wrestlers for Japan). And there are some fabulous sequined gowns for the stars to strut their stuff in, an uncredited contribution , we are informed, by the fashion designer Tahari.