WASHINGTON — These days, the Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage is full of people laughing, clapping, crying and singing along to the musical “Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story.” It’s a melodic telling of the journey to fame for the six-time Grammy winner with his sister, CeCe.
The two African-American Detroit natives — and the two youngest members of the gospel singing Winans family dynasty — turned the music world on its head as their songs turned up in unexpected places.
“One of the things about me and my sister’s career: you heard us on pop radio, you heard us on jazz stations … it transcended,” BeBe Winans told WTOP in an interview. “Wherever people were who loved music, that’s where you heard us. It’s inspiring whether you’ve been to church or not.”
BeBe Winans is grateful for their success, and credits Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker for putting the close siblings on their television show, “The Praise the Lord Club,” in the 1980s. BeBe and CeCe moved to North Carolina, and this coming-of-age production highlights the huge cultural changes the association brought to their lives.
“Jim and Tammy became our white parents,” BeBe Winans remembered. “But they took a risk in putting us on television because there was such segregation inside of the church. So they received threats because of what they did, but they took a risk and knew it was important because there is no separation when it comes to God’s love.”
The parts of BeBe and CeCe are played by their nephew Juan Winans and niece Deborah Joy Winans. Deborah tells WTOP that in doing this show, she learned a lot about her aunt and uncle’s lives.
“I started to realize the effect they had on music, on people … [and] I learned what it took for them to have that effect and all the things they went through in the 80s in North Carolina,” Deborah Joy said.
“In the south, I dealt with racism, and I’m dealing with that same situation today,” BeBe Winans said. “But I learned I could overcome hatred with love, and I learned a lot about not allowing racism to separate me. There’s always a choice in every situation.”
One of the challenges for Deborah Joy has been singing the part of her virtuoso, big-voiced aunt CeCe, who can blow an audience out of their seats with her powerful instrument.
“There’s a lot of singing. That was challenging for me because I didn’t sing much before, so this is really kind of honing that singing craft,” Deborah Joy Winans said and added, “And trying to learn the things she does I can do. A lot of things she does I can’t do. CeCe is CeCe for a reason!”
There are some stand out moments in this popular show: Kristen Wyatt’s Tammy Faye Bakker’s character cracks the audience up, and Kiandra Richardson as a young Whitney Houston draws gasps from the audience for the eerie accuracy of her voice and mannerisms.
BeBe Winans says this production is exciting because he believes the audience sees their lives on stage as well.
“That’s what we wanted to accomplish. Everyone has a purpose behind being here on the planet earth,” he said.
Deborah Joy called “Born for This” a spiritual experience.
“It lets people walk away with a sense of purpose, picking up dreams they let go because they didn’t believe it could happen,” she said. “It gives you a sense of hope. You feel inspired to do something more.”
“Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story,” runs through Aug. 28. Tickets are available online at Arena Stage’s website.
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