It's not quite a food fight, but bandleader Sanford Moore has had vigorous arguments with his spirited trio of male singers about who qualifies as a diva. This matters because they can only represent so many famed female vocalists in their cabaret revue, "When a Man Loves a Diva."
The production, in which Dane Stauffer, Julius Collins III and Ben Bakken deliver songs made famous by women singers, opens Saturday at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis.
"We don't answer the question outright, but ask it in the show," said Moore. "Is it based on age? Experience? Is it purely popularity? There are a lot of popular singers whose work doesn't make the cut."
Webster's defines diva simply as a leading woman singer, originally in opera. The term in the popular imagination is associated with haughty attitude. But for Moore, it's an honorific. Diva means "great artistry, staying power and influence," he said.
"Reasonable people will reasonably disagree," said Collins, who does songs made famous by Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton and Chaka Khan. "It's honesty delivered with a wink. We're three guys legitimately paying tribute to these powerful women who've inspired us or moved us."
Moore first assembled the talent for "Diva" in 2009, when Collins, a singing actor who fronted the Greazy Meal R&B cover band, was wheelchair-bound as he recuperated from surgery. That original production was pretty spare in terms of backing instrumentation. It had keyboards and drums. Moore has now assembled a full rhythm section with guitar and bass. He also has expanded the musical menu beyond the R&B that was the mainstay of the original.
There is still a Motown medley in the show as well as numbers from Patti LaBelle and Aretha Franklin. But the 30 songs that are delivered in whole or part now include ones made famous by the likes of Pat Benatar and Tina Turner, plus snippets of songs associated with Adele, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears -- "divas-in-training," said Moore.
From a feminine place
Collins said that the show is deeply personal for him.
"I was raised by a woman who was in control of every situation," he said. "When I sing, I sing from a feminine place. It's more truthful."
Stauffer is a singer/actor who divides his time between Minnesota and Hollywood. He said that he is excited to have director Andrew Rasmussen, who helmed "Rent" and "The Rocky Horror Show," shape "Divas."
"We strike a balance between high-concept, tightly choreographed pieces with tight harmonies, and looser songs," Stauffer said. "We also dance the line between camp and catharsis. It's like Bette Midler wheeling around dressed as a mermaid one moment, then five minutes later making you cry with her vulnerability. It's a complete evening."
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390