Vickie Winans answers her cell phone in the same powerful, melodic voice that has stirred the spirits of gospel music fans for decades. In Birmingham, Ala., having spent the previous day performing, Winans sounds familiar and folksy, like an old friend.
"Honey, let me tell you about this amazing show," says the singer, referring to her new musical stage play, Torn Between Two Loves, which opens at Lyric Opera House on Tuesday.
Torn charts one woman's inner struggle with the vow she has made as a nun and the pastor with whom she has suddenly fallen in love. Winans, who wrote and stars in the play, describes it an explosive and "hilarious" exploration of one woman's covenant with God and the earthly love she can't live with or without.
"We sold out all of the shows when we premiered in Dallas," she says. "We had people falling out in the aisles, laughing and carrying on. When audiences react that way, you know you've touched something deep inside them."
A 20-year gospel veteran, this five-time Grammy nominee has been touching people with music since she began singing at age 8, at her hometown church in Ecorse, Mich.
As a teen, she sang with the group International Sounds of Deliverance and later joined a group called the Winans Part II, which included BeBe and CeCe Winans.
Vickie would later marry one of CeCe's brothers, fellow gospel singer Marvin Winans.
They had two sons (Mario and Marvin Jr.) but eventually divorced, which she says partly inspired the current play.
"Things happen, and we don't know what God's will is for our life. I wrote this during that time," explains Winans. "It's about the principle of a woman's struggle, and what she has to go through. It's a wonderful story about struggle that brings triumph in the end."
The play, which Winans financed, is booked for the next nine months at major theaters around the country.
Among the cast are her son Marvin and Orlando Wright (The Fabric of a Man). The show is scored by Rudolph Hawkins (Mama I Want to Sing) and is directed by Weyman Thompson, whose Broadway credits include Dream Girls.
When she is not on stage acting, Winans has a frenetic performance schedule of 250 shows yearly -- often performing as many as three different concerts on the same day in different cities.
That pace and abundant charisma have helped Winans garner hits with such gospel classics as "We Shall Behold Him" and "Long as I Got King Jesus" and earned her accolades such as the Stellar Awards' Artist of the Year.
Her latest CD, Bringing It All Together, has topped the Billboard gospel chart for almost a year, fueled by her recent smash "Shake Yourself Loose."
"God has really blessed me," says Winans, who marked her 50th birthday in October with a lavish party and recently wed Joe McLemore, a Detroit businessman.
Meantime, the gospel chanteuse is working on her next CD, Woman to Woman: Songs of Survival. She predicts it will be the biggest album of her career to date.
"People have always told me what I can't do, but it's like my song `Shake Yourself Loose' says: You have to rid yourself of that negativity. When you tell me I can't, my Bible tells me I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."
The production runs Tuesday through April 11 at the Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. Shows are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through April 9, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. April 10, and 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. April 11. Tickets are $22.50-$36.50. Call Tickets.com at 866-597-4200.
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