Playwright and producer Angela Barrow-Dunlap was elated with the response of Torontonians to her musical Church Girl which played here last weekend for the first time outside the United States.
“The audience was mature and studied and they caught everything,” said the urban theatre movement pioneer. “I enjoyed the energy and I will definitely consider bringing more plays here.”
Staged in nearly 25 cities since opening in March 2010, Barrow-Dunlap said she’s surprised that the musical still has legs.
“I thought it would have ended several states ago, but the requests keep coming in,” she said. “Promoters on the West Coast want us to bring it there and even here in Toronto, I have had requests to consider Jamaica and England. It definitely looks as if it still has some more legs.”
Church Girl tells the story of a quintessential church girl and daughter of a prominent pastor who is seduced by the charms of a worldly life.
While producing the musical, Barrow-Dunlap discovered that her cousin was living a similar life.
“I made the discovery through members of my own family,” she said. “They showed me explicit photos of her on the Internet and, during my investigation, I found out that she was one of Detroit’s top strippers at the time. Through auditioning for a gospel play, she connected with the wrong people. It started with photography and ended up with her dancing and stripping…We were able to take her desire to get into the entertainment business and bring it to the stage and she now travels with me. Church Girl is a combination of true stories.
“That was a very difficult period for me because as parents we think we know everything about our children. One of the things this play says to parents is make sure you know where your child is and what they are doing.”
Barrow-Dunlap said her zeal for the arts emerged after she entered a teenage pageant.
“All the other contestants could sing and dance and I really didn’t have a talent then,” she recalled. “When I broke this news to my mother, she wrote a monologue for me that resulted in me winning the Best Talent award. I even won the pageant.
“I later worked with a producer as an intern for a couple of years and I learned a lot from him before going on to do my own shows.”
The talented artist created Why Good Girls Like Bad Boyz which was one of the highest grossing urban stage plays of all time and the popular If These Hips Could Talk that featured Billy Dee Williams. She also wrote and produced Zeola Gaye’s dramatic musical, My Brother Marvin, a dramatic story of the late Marvin Gaye as seen through the eyes of his youngest sister.
Barrow-Dunlap said My Brother Marvin II is a strong possibility.
“Marvin’s other sister Jeanne has discovered memoirs from her mother Alberta who is an incredible woman,” said the huge Marvin Gaye and Motown fan. “This is new and very useful information that has come forward.”
Church Girl’s cast brought together some of the entertainment business’ biggest attractions, including R & B singer/songwriter and cancer survivor A’ngela Winbush, Grammy award-winning singer Karen Clark-Sheard and multi-talented Robin Givens who made her Broadway debut five years ago in Chicago, the longest running American show in Broadway history.
Barrow-Dunlap, the founder and president of Ladies First Entertainment which is based in Detroit, said she enjoys working with the model, film, TV and stage actress.
“She does so many things and it’s amazing how she’s able to juggle her time,” she said. “Robin was supposed to come to Toronto a day after the cast, but the travel agent made an error and had her on a red-eye a day earlier with just about two hours notice. She didn’t complain. She’s a team player and someone that I have had a wonderful relationship with.”