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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Three Mo' Divas
First there was the Three Tenors, then Three Mo' Tenors that sang their way through selections from the vast vocal musical repertoire of the past 400 years. Now enjoy the Three Mo' Divas, who are exercising their right to show off their extraordinary voices in concert and in a show that left the audience opening night at Crossroads Theater cheering, whistling and applauding in approval.

Touring on and off, here and there across the country since 2004 but with various singers, this show that Marion J. Caffey conceived, choreographed, and directed with a light-hearted touch is now in town through December 6. It is a grand and glorious concert that should satisfy everyone who loves terrific singing and is able to feel the excitement that is stirred by this grand company.

The program warns us that "Due to the extraordinary vocal demands of the show, the singers rotate the operatic program." So, let me be clear that as a dynamite starter all three divas — Laurice Lanier, Nova Payton and Jamet Pittman — chime in on a gloriously concerted version of "Quando m'en Vo" from La Boheme. This is followed by Pittman's ravishing "Io son l'umile ancella" from Adriana Lecouvreur. If there is anything to prove after that, it is how adept these divas are at singin' the Blues, Broadway, Soul, Spiritual and the Gospel repertoire.

Dressed in sparkling black dresses, then in more formal attire in the second half, they are as often disposed to complement and play off each other as they are given an individual spotlight. Distinctly different in physical type, these sopranos can also be appreciated for the differences in their vocal range and timbre. To everyone's delight, they also express plenty of attitude as well as their own distinctive personalities throughout the program.

The trio is backed up by six superb musicians, including the group's outstanding Russian-born conductor/pianist Annastasia Victory. I especially enjoyed seeing how she didn't let her long bangs that kept flopping over her eyes disturb her virtuoso playing.

I don't like to play favorites but Lanier, a mezzo soprano with a very husky but resonant voice, would often begin a song with a note from so deep down inside of her that I'm sure none of us have ever heard it before. She provides some of the most thrilling vocal work in the blues category I've ever heard, including "God Bless the Child," "Downhearted Blues," and "His Eye is on the Sparrow." In contrast, Payton is a smaller bundle of dynamite but her bright clear lyric soprano pushed the rafters up a few feet singing "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess and "My Funny Valentine," all from the Broadway catalogue. Emphasizing her gift as a dramatic soprano Pittman sang with intense feeling "Your Daddy's Son" from Ragtime. She also moves as easily from the jazzy inferences of "Solitude" to the rhythm and blues beat with "Everything Must Change."

An homage to the Andrew Sisters ("Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"), led the way to "Seasons of Love," from Rent, and the title song from Little Shop of Horrors, all of which proved how easily these divas can get from Hollywood to Broadway.

There are about 34 songs in the two hour show, with some pop tunes reduced to a single chorus in a "Medley of Memories."

Be assured that these three divas will create for you a memory of an exceptional entertainment, one that includes the perhaps obligatory gospel number ("Sweeping Through the City" that had everyone converted, at least for the moment). To be sure, we can see the glory in these three voices and in the great music that should make us all give thanks. One disappointment: The program states that Lanier would sing "Mon Coeur S'Ouvre A' Ta Voix" from Samson and Delilah. She didn't. If and when she does, I'll make it my business to come back down to Crossroads Theater just for that.

Three Mo' Divas
  Created, Directed and Choreographed by Marion J. Caffey

Cast: Laurice Lanier, Nova Payton, Jamet Pittman
  Musicians: Annastasia Victory (conductor/pianist), Ralph Agresta (drums), John Coffey (keyboard 2/AMD, Vince Fay (Bass), Sipho Kunene (drums), Natalie Tenenbaum (Keyboard 3)
Musical Direction: Annastasia Victory
  Set Design: Dale F. Jordan
  Costume Design: Toni-Leslie James
  Hair and Wig Design: Bettie O. Rogers
  Additional Arrangements by e' Marcus Harper and Danny Holgate
   Crossroads Theater Company, 7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ
  (732) 545 — 8100
  Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
  Tickets: ($40 - $65)
  Performances: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 PM.
  Opened 11/21/09
  Ends 12/06/09
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/21/09
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