Review: Church Girl (Profile Entertainment)

Church Girl is a very ambitious play. Toronto’s Sony Centre For The Performing Arts hosted this important example of urban theatre on Labour Day Weekend. Church Girl is a play with a positive message. It is a very hopeful and life-affirming play.

Church Girl is a big and splendid production. It is the true story of a pastor’s daughter with a dirty secret. It was the first time I’ve been lucky enough to attend an urban theatre stage play. Hopefully it won’t be my last.

The play tells the true story of Emily Franklin. It was written and produced by Angela Barrow-Dunlap and directed by Reuben Yabuku.

We grow up with Emily during the play. The audience attends church with her and watches her perform at a strip club. Visually and technically, Church Girl is extraordinary.

I was really looking forward to the singing and to the church scenes. The amazing ensemble did not disappoint. My friend David and I looked at each other during one of the first scenes and nodded silently, giving each other a thumbs-up. Rarely does an all-star lineup live up to its potential. Church Girl bucks that trend.

This is just the second performance I’ve seen at Sony Centre. I have to say, the costumes and gowns are as incredible as the ones Bjork showed off last time I was there. The choreography, costumes and direction were all as inspiring as the message.

There are a lot of characters and a complex plot. Church Girl is easy to follow though, since the writing and acting is great. There are no caricatures here, just talented people delivering believable, sometimes brilliant, performances.

The play and performers are based in Detroit. I’ve spent a lot of time in Motown and have a lot of friends there. The heart and soul of that town is something very special.

Speaking of cars, we once “totalled” one in an accident while visiting The Heidelberg Project. A woman came out of her house and comforted my wife. “Honey, I’d go inside and make you a cup of tea, but I wasn’t able to pay the electricity this month.”

That’s the same heart and soul that oozes throughout every part of Church Girl. It’s a play that explores some parts of the human experience that most of us aren’t proud of. It deals with them honestly though. Church Girl reminds us that we are not alone, no matter where we go or what troubles we encounter. It is a play about forgiveness, helping one another and growing up in difficult times.

Robin Givens has a small role in Church Girl. There’s no doubt that the woman once described as “the most hated woman in America” sells tickets. Givens certainly has charisma, but it isn’t necessarily good. The play is about redemption, second chances and forgiveness. Givens has had more than her share of all of those, yet it seems she still looks down her nose at everyone around her.

I found her presence disruptive. The former Mrs. Tyson paraded on stage like a peacock, and broke the rhythm, the “spell” of the play. Givens is the one bad apple in this remarkable cast. She ought to be in the audience, not onstage.

I have no doubt that a more likeable, a more talented and more deserving woman would sell even more tickets than Ms. Givens.

Church Girl is a message play. It takes those lucky enough to see it on a visual, musical and emotional journey. The audience did a heap of laughing, crying, clapping and dancing. I love that Detroit is exporting this kind of love!

There were some things Dave and I didn’t like though. We both felt that the play would benefit from being shorter. We felt cramped into the “intimate” seating of The Sony Centre. For more than three hours, we felt like we were on a transcontinental plane. We also weren’t too keen on people filming the play with their phones. People coming and going was distracting as well.

All in all, attending Church Girl was a fantastic experience. It opened a lot of doors for me personally. Seeing the play was good for the soul. I’m sure that we will see a lot more urban theatre in Toronto as our multicultural city continues to mature and become more sophisticated.


Church Girl played at Sony Centre For The Performing Arts,1 Front Street East, Toronto on September 2nd and September 3rd, 2011

 Photo of the cast of Church Girl