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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Ralph Leads Parade of Singing 'Divas' Stars

May 12, 1997|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Divas are back. The seventh installment of the annual "Divas: Simply Singing!" returned to the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on Saturday night with another lineup of fluffed and fearless female stars.

At the head of the parade: singer-actress Sheryl Lee Ralph. As producer of the Divas concerts, her work has generated invaluable contributions to Project Angel Food and the Safe Place for Pediatric AIDS. But on this program, which ran nearly four hours, Ralph was a bit too present, with a musical showcase song, production numbers, an introduction of her children and more.

Among the other performers, Toni Tennille, accompanied by the Captain (husband Daryl Dragon) was affecting in an original AIDS tribute song, "Love Survives." In her too few moments on stage, Liz Torres revealed an ineffable sense of life's absurdities. And Loretta Devine brought intelligent musicality to an original song about the perils of contemporary urban life.

Budding divas Jessica James, 15, and Ashley Robles, 11, demonstrated a youthful grasp of gospel-based pop singing styles, while Linda Hopkins and Mavis Staples fervently revealed its roots. Deborah Cox and Desiree Coleman Jackson also explored the style, with Jackson's vocal pyrotechnics very nearly stealing the entire show.

Kristine W and the trio Wild Orchid added dashes of blue-eyed soul, and Kathy Kinney--the outrageous Mimi Robeck on "The Drew Carey Show"--was hilarious in a skit with Ralph. Actress-singer Christine Ebersole brought a compelling passion to her rendering of "The Man That Got Away."

Accompanying virtually every performer with solid understanding, musical director-pianist Diane Louie supplied the musical sustenance that brought the evening to life.

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