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THEATER REVIEW

'Worth' is enough to wash away your sins

June 03, 2004|Rob Kendt | Special to The Times

So this is what's meant by preaching to the converted: When a character in Chrys Yvette and Tyga Graham's gospel musical "A Woman's Worth" refers to a well-known verse from Corinthians, you can hear audience members repeat it along with him.

Indeed, the crowd for this "urban circuit" show isn't only clued in to the overt Christian content. It's also keyed to respond to the genre's types and tropes, which seem about as ritualized as the Stations of the Cross: Abused heroine reclaims her life and dignity from a deadbeat ex with the help of a stalwart, Scripture-quoting aunt, a few friends with relationship issues of their own, and a decent, God-fearing new man.

And even the most reticent sinners, from a gold-digging tramp to a pothead uncle, eventually enjoy a closer walk with their savior, all to the accompaniment of a thumping, grinding live band and backup singers.

Perhaps the audience's well-worn familiarity with the form explains why it's not only the show's intentionally comic characters, including a ludicrously outmoded pimp daddy (Ron Vails Jr.), that get the big laughs. Every line flub or staging snafu, not to mention every sinister appearance of the gangsta villain -- Bo, a former gridiron pro played by hip-hop star Treach -- gets a hearty guffaw. Not even the horror-movie music that greets Bo's every entrance stifles the giggles.

It's good-natured fun, in other words, even if every conflict is writ large as a freeway exit sign and nearly every earnest speech sounds like an excerpt from a sermon, a soap or a self-help book.

At a full three hours, though, "A Woman's Worth" is a long sit. How many scenes of Bo stalking and threatening his querulous ex, Cami (Tina Turner-esque Tichina Arnold), do we need before the final standoff? How many times do we need to witness humbled men plead with distrustful women to take another chance on love? And how many references to Jesus' wonder-working power do we need to get the point? The authors seem to feel that anything worth saying is worth saying over and over.

By and large, the cast makes good company for the evening, particularly big-voiced Lecresia Campbell as understanding Aunt Lucile, who will testify at the drop of a commandment, and Margaret Bell, as Cami's sensible cousin Paula.

The always solid Roscoe Freeman, as Lucile's upstanding estranged husband, lights up his two scenes. And a series of insult exchanges between Yvette, as a strutting material girl, and Vails' vintage self-styled pimp Pookay ("French for 'pookie,' " he explains) provide some choice broad humor.

Music director Ralph Hawkins leads a loud, tight pit band, and the cast's pipes, especially Graham's and Campbell's, are persuasive, despite some pesky glitches with the headset microphones.

Less theater than staged ministry, "A Woman's Worth" may not be, as the Apostle Paul would say, all things to all people. But audiences looking for a righteous sermon that doesn't take itself too seriously, complete with live music and more costume changes than a Madonna concert, may find this a worthy evening. Can I get a witness?

*

'A Woman's Worth'

Where: Presented by Steve Harvey at the Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, L.A.

When: Thursday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 and 8 p.m.

Ends: Sunday

Price: $30-$40

Info: (213) 480-3232

Running time: 3 hours

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