By Sonja Brown
The first lady of television comedy, Marla Gibs, comedian Michael Colyar, Jacob Lusk from American Idol season 10, Chico Benymon from sitcom “Half and Half”, Abraham McDonald discovered by Oprah Winfrey, Brely Evans from “Sparkle” and the legendary Freda Payne closed the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles down with their recent performance in Heavenbound to an enthusiastic crowd and anxious fans. The Gospel play was written, directed and produced by Don B. Welch.
Set in a place called “almost-in-heaven”, five Christians who have passed away, are waiting in a room just outside of heaven to give their life testimony, sing a song or both in order to become a part of “The Beams of Heaven” gospel choir. These five characters come from various backgrounds and as each tell why they deserve to become a “Beam”, most people could probably identify with at least one of the characters in some way.
One by one the audience was introduced to the characters who would give us a glimpse of their past while justifying their rightful place in the heavenly choir. Marla Gibbs served as the “gatekeeper” and it was her job to enforce the rule to these potential “Beams” that they sing or give their life testimony as well as follow the rules of the holding room just outside of heaven.
The Gospel singing was so captivating that it was easy to not notice that there were no set or wardrobe changes for the entire play with only the Gatekeeper changing her gown from purple to black during the intermission. This audience was part of something like a revival and none of the traditional theatre play protocol applied to viewers. The music, the singing, and the choir dressed in all white perched in the choir stands was the right combination to let viewers get a peek into what Heaven really could be like. The crew did an excellent job with the lighting; the periodic light changes set the perfect atmosphere to let the spirit of God move among the crowd. And while we could see the keyboard player on stage (he was one of the Beams), we could not see Andrea Byrd who was on percussion just behind the curtains but her playing was critical in making the sound and feel of the singing come alive.
At the finale of the play the audience was treated with an amazing performance by Freda Payne singing her classic hit “A Band of Gold”.
This reviewer has the opportunity to speak with Michael Coylar after the play and asked about his testimony in the play and how he related to it? “The producer wrote the testimony, it’s his but it’s like he wrote it just for me because I can definitely relate to it,” stated Coylar.
Don B. Welch has many credits to his name as a singer, actor, writer, director, playwright, producer and now author. He has had co-starring roles on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, “Cosby” as well as independent films. He has written and directed over 19 productions and worked with such notables as Loretta Divine, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Dorien Wilson, Kenny Lattimore, Dawnn Lewis, Tatyana Ali, Ginuwine, and Flex Alexander to name a few. He is often compared to Tyler Perry, “It used to bother me, because we really are nothing alike. His journey is his journey and my journey has been mine,” states Welch. “But, I have come to understand that the general public needs a comparison. They need to be able to identify what one does with an example that is easily accepted and understood. So, it’s fine. I respect Mr. Perry’s journey, he has worked very hard to do that no one else from this genre has been able to do in the Black community,” he continued.
Mr. Welch and his team will begin production of a feature film “The Divorce” next week.