There is a feather boa, lots of shimmying and cooing in "When a Man Loves a Diva," the tribute revue in which three terrific male singers perform songs made famous by female pop stars. But don't be fooled by these stage antics or the ample helpings of between-song comedy. Singers Dane Stauffer, Julius Collins III and Ben Bakken deliver under the guidance of bandleader Sanford Moore and a tight rhythm section that includes bassist Jay Young.
Smooth crooner Stauffer, an expert at timing and at milking moments for laughs, is the comic anchor of the vocal trio. He injects persona and character into nearly all the songs he handles and in the banter between numbers. Stauffer's bag of antics includes primping and tossing his hair, turning to give a look and generally hamming it up for the audience at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis, where the revival of "Diva" opened over the weekend.
It is the third, and charming, time for "Diva," whose campy antics, mostly done at the top of the show, do not undermine the songs. Stauffer's sometimes self-effacing, Rodney Dangerfield-esque act is just gravy. Beneath the froufrou, he and the rest of the "Diva" crew have solid talent and tremendous soul, which they reveal over the course of the two-act evening.
These men render songs by Aretha Franklin ("Natural Woman"), Beyoncé ("Single Ladies"), Christina Aguilera ("Beautiful") and more than two dozen others.
In the show, Stauffer, Collins and Bakken are not doing vocal impersonations of women. On his solo numbers, Bakken, a rising musical theater star who recently headlined "Jesus Christ Superstar" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, proves that he is Al Green and Justin Timberlake rolled into one. He delivers with sincerity and heart.
Collins, lead vocalist for Greazy Meal, a cover band, combines the best vocal stylings of Marvin Gaye and R. Kelly. With impressive skill, he tackles power ballads that bedevil some of the biggest female pop stars. His versions of the Whitney Houston/Dolly Parton number "I Will Always Love You" and of "I'm Telling You," made famous by Jennifer Holliday from "Dreamgirls," are highlights of the evening. He masters the big, dramatic emotional arc of the "Dreamgirls" piece, his voice soaring to project insecurity and determination, hurt and hope.
"Diva" begins with some palette-cleansing machismo as the singers do a bouncy, audience-participation version of "We Will Rock You." After getting that out of the way, they get down to business, rolling off songs, and snippets of songs, made famous by Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer, Cher and Chaka Khan.
They use small talk to rest and to amuse. In one bit, Stauffer teaches the audience something he learned from a theater teacher in New York. It is about selling the end of a song by marrying the last three notes with physical gestures.
"It's called the grapefruit method," he said, lifting his hand to demonstrate the movements that so many divas use to close down big numbers. "First you pick the grapefruit, then you squeeze out the juice, then you throw away the rind."
And that's not all we take away from this fun show.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390