Robin Givens tells on the ‘Church Girl’

Cover July 22, 2011

Story: Lenny Stoute

As usual in Toronto, once mid-summer hits all thoughts turn to cottages and aid conditioning. Down on the baking streets, flocks of colourful sundresses return from their annual migration, eagerly followed by the Common Shorted Male and everywhere, dogs of every size and shape shuffle and pant. All hot, all dragging ass. Just looking at them makes you hot too.

Research suggests this time of year many one-nighters are negotiated largely on the basis of access to AC. If that's a date too far, you can still act on the principle in the cool, otherworldly lighting and intimacy of Love, revenge, loss, lust, great bods, fantastic voices, amazing sets, the thrilling high wire of live acting, all laid out as you kick back in air-cooled comfort and get comfortable in a skin not your own.
The reigning star of must-see venues in Toronto is the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. Newly reno-ed and re-modeled, it's a visual feast with a graceful neoDeco stairway, alluring artworks on display, a spectacular Wall of Sound and word has it a great cruising bar.
Kicking off the Sony Centre's Mid-Summer season is the musical 'Church Girl' which arrives at the Sony Centre August 12- 13, 2011 for those nights only. This gritty, urban-derived tale of loss and redemption unfolds to a soundtrack running the gamut of Afro-centric music. As the name tips it, Gospel music is the backbone of the thing but we get to listen to it mutate into blues, funk, soul, jazz, r'n'b and currently, to the hop and the hop. What they hold in common is these are musics of redemption; even the deepest of blues acknowledges saving grace is just around the corner if you can only “keep the Devil, down in the hole".

'Church Girl' brings together some of the film, television and music world's hottest stars on one stage. Leading the cadre of characters is one of Hollywood's most sought after actresses, Robin Givens, R&B soul-singer/songwriter A'ngela Winbush; actress Demetria McKinney from the NAACP Image Award-winning television series House of Payne; actor Clifton Powell from the Friday movies, Ray and Norbit; and Tony Grant from Tyler Perry's The Marriage Counsellor. The show also features play circuit powerhouses and theatre veterans Wanda Nero-Butler, Gia Wyre and Teisha Lott.

'Church Girl' tells the story of Emily Franklin, the seemingly wholesome daughter of a prominent pastor, who is seduced by the charms of a worldly life. Emily is hiding a very shocking secret and like all things evil, it is festering.  Emily has been working diligently to cover up the dark choices she has made, but when her secret is exposed, events take a dramatic turn and skeletons coming crashing out of the closet.  Everyone wants to know what could push a quintessential church girl to turn her back on everything she has been taught.

This is a simmering issue especially for young Afro-American singers and one that Jennifer Hudson has addressed on various occasions. What would make a church girl give up her soul to dance on the pole has been something of a cultural taboo, so big ups to 'Church Girl' for taking it on.

The Angel Barrow-Dunlap written play casts frontline movie and TV star Robin Givens in the pivotal role of Cat Jones, a strip club Alpha female and groomer of young talent. Make no mistake, Cat Jones is not the 'heart of gold' type.
As played by Givens, she's more the heart of steel and for good reason.

In discussing the role, Givens opines" This part appealed to me largely because it was born out of a true story. Most every woman has at some point in her life given in to temptation, and as a result felt trapped. 'Church Girl' simply says that you can choose to be free.

“The play is really talking about the choices in life, how important the choices you make are and how they can mark your life for a long time.

"I play one of the main girls at the club, a manager type in The Game. Cat doesn't even have to take her clothes off anymore but she's a vital part of the process. She's helping a man build this business.

"This is a very important show in that it blends with what's going on now. It's very contemporary, in the way that right now a lot of young girls are considering stripping as an option for life. The play looks at the wider spectrum in the sense of a lost soul coming back to who you are and who God intended you to be.

"The young girls coming up are bombarded with such a stream of negative but seductive images, it's no wonder there is such confusion. Every show, song, movie, TV show or musical like 'Church Girl' which addresses the issue in a forthright and positive way, represents a genuine step forward.

“Being part of that by way of  'Church Girl' is a big source of satisfaction for me".