"A Woman Like That!" leaves no doubt as to what kind of woman we're talking about. When a femme fatale named Olivia Dark struts her tight-skirted self across the stage of the Lyric Opera House, she truly is "a woman like that." When this devilish character sets out to seduce a married preacher, she wiggles her way into a secretarial job in his church before you can even say along with the rest of the audience, "Don't do it, Rev."
A musical comedy like that doesn't mess around with anything subtle when matters of sin and salvation are at hand. "A Woman Like That!," which preaches at the Lyric through Sunday, is a production that will play well to the converted. It sticks to the same basic formula as other gospel musicals that have come through in recent years, making the melodrama and the melodies in writer/producer Donald Lawrence's show as easy to follow as familiar hymns.
If this musical has its share of moments both humorous and touching, they're offset by characterization and plotting so heavy-handed that all moral choices come in black or white, never gray. So much time is devoted to establishing the devil-is-a-woman nature of the aptly surnamed Olivia Dark (P. Ann Everson), for instance, that you may feel as if you're watching a medieval morality play. Ms. Dark proposes to do to the preacher what Eve did to Adam and Delilah did to Samson. She is bathed in red light. She sings her R&B ballads as if those letters stood for Ribald & Bawdy.
Oh, there is enough broad fun to be had watching Olivia Dark do her stuff. Certainly the audience got into the spirit of things, with the more vocal play-goers shouting "Uh-oh" every time she made a move on the preacher.
But all the variations on her badness make a very long show even longer.
"A Woman Like That!" indulges in her naughtiness, dawdles with choir selections and sitcom snippets, and takes quite a while before really working the star of the show into the action. As the preacher, the Rev. Jesse Hall, singer Peabo Bryson makes a less than luminous entrance because his preacher's pulpit is
awkwardly located behind the choir.
We're a half-hour into the show before he sings and nearly an hour into it before he lets loose in a voice both piercing and tender in "Creepin'." If his acting is often flat, his singing voice is as pretty as ever.
The really winning performance, though, is that of Deone Rhodes as the preacher's wife, Sister Roberta Hall. Although Sister Hall may seem sweet and simpering at first, she possesses real strength. When she erupts with the number "I'm More Than A Woman," you know the forces of good are preparing to take on any Eve, Delilah or Olivia Dark in the way.