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We Were There: Born For This Brings Heart And Soul to Alliance Theater

Broadway Black



Born For This, The Bebe Winans Story, is more than a biography of one talented man. It is more than guest cameos and family legacies. At its heart the musical which is playing at the Alliance Theater this month is about love.

Gosh, that sounds so cheesy.

And believe me, I was going to delete the line after I wrote it. But sometimes things can be simple. And Born For This is simply about how love can transform a life,  several relationships, and a career.

The Bebe Winans Story is both unpredictable in its plot points and pleasantly predictable in its theme. We meet a young Bebe early in the show watching the reception his brothers receive when they perform onstage as The Winans. (Undergarments are emphasized a lot). Young Bebe is hooked and he and his little sister, Cece, also a gifted but shy talent, go down south to sing on the PTL show (Praise The Lord) with the not yet infamous Jim and Tammy Faye Baker (played by Chaz Pofahl and Kirsten Wyatt).

If you owned a TV in the 80s you remember the Bakkers as either soldiers of the Lord or Soul Sucking Monsters out to grab your last dollar. It doesn’t matter what history has to say about it. In Born For This the Bakker’s nurture the Winans kids as their own “chocolate” children. They protect them and help them grow. It is a side we don’t often hear about.

Photos by Greg Mooney Courtesy Alliance Theatre

Photos by Greg Mooney Courtesy Alliance Theatre

The same can be said for the appearance of Whitney Houston played by Kiandra Richardson. Houston gets a dose of innocence and nostalgia. All three celebrities became a part of the public discourse, both loved and despised at different points. But in the Winans world, in Bebe’s eyes, he saw the love and support of family and friends. As for the Winans they endure racism, fame, and fear with the steady beat of a good ballad.

Deborah Joy Winans and Juan Winans, who play Cece and Bebe respectively, are able to add layers and depth to two people I only saw on television or at the Stellar Awards. Both actors have their strengths which they play to well. Deborah is able to capture the emotional voice of her real-life aunt, no doubt due to her theatrical background and a starring role on OWN’s “Greenleaf”. Juan, a musical prodigy in his own right, certainly provides the musical bravado that was Bebe.

The Winans have an unfair advantage when talking about love. Most of the family has been singing about that everlasting love for decades. Can you really listen to “Addicted Love” and not tremble with positive energy? I can’t.

On the song front BeBe, who also wrote the book and lyrics to the musicals, shines with catchy numbers that pull you in immediately. Bebe and Cece have made a career out of providing Jesus-lite songs: tunes that are wrapped in heavenly theme, but do not knock shake us into sanctified submission. His style works well in this genre as each song pulls us closer and closer to Glory without making us feel guilty for not going to church last Sunday. (For the last decade of Sundays)

And when the family is together on stage look out. Nita Whitaker and Milton Craig Nealy who play Delores Mom Winans and Pop Winans provide weight to the family scenes and when they sing, the whole room shakes. Rounding out the Winans family cast are Dyllon Burnside, Desmond Sean Ellington and Brad Raymond.

The only thing I wanted more of was Bebe. During the entire show, I hoped to see a little more into his soul, his heartache, his fears. I got a lot of family fears, and friend fears and sibling rivalry, which I am sure shaped the man. But I just wanted a little more quiet time with Bebe, to reflect and ponder.

But maybe that is the point. The Bebe Winans story was never just about him, it is about the enduring love of family, friends and God. That ain’t such a bad lesson.

After the cheers and roaring applause, Broadway Black was able to talk to Juan and Deborah Joy about the project. The two exude the same familial bond that you once saw on television watching Bebe and Cece give an interview. There is an unspoken language that they show us off stage and on stage which helps propel the story.

Deborah Joy and Juan Winans backstage.

Deborah Joy and Juan Winans backstage.

And while the show is a lot of fun Juan reminds us of some of the greater truths he learned while doing the show.

“It’s important to pay attention,” Juan says of the show. “This story started thirty years ago, and I think we are facing a lot of the same issues as we were facing then. I think it’s important to pay attention so we don’t have to repeat the same cycles.”

Deborah Joy adds her take on the message of the musical: “Love, it doesn’t matter what you do in life or where it takes you, if you don’t have a foundation of love, you won’t make it.”

Hmm. It doesn’t sound so cheesy when she says it. In fact, it may be the most important gift Born For This can offer its audience. For tickets click here.

Born For This is directed by Charles Randloph Wright, choreogrpahy by Warren Adams, & musical direction by gospel great Donald Lawrence.





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Events and Happenings

Erika Dickerson-Despenza Addresses Flint Water Crisis with Cullud Wattah

Drew Shade



Playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza

There is limited seating left for Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s new play CULLUD WATTAH at The Public Theater. Opening today, Thursday, March 7th and running until Sunday, March 10th in the Public Studio is about three generations of Black women living through the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

“It’s been 936 days since Marion’s family has had clean water. When local activists file a class action lawsuit against the city, Marion—a third-generation employee at General Motors—must decide how best to support her two daughters, sister, and mother while lead seeps into the community, their home, and their bodies. As corrosive memories and secrets rise among them, the family wonders if they’ll ever be able to filter out the truth.”

2018 Relentless Award Semifinalist and poet-playwright makes her Public Theater debut with CULLUD WATTAH directed by Lilly Award winner Candis C. Jones; the cast includes Deonna Bouye (Marion), Alana Raquel Bowers (Reesee), Caroline Stefanie Clay (Big Ma), Nikiya Mathis (Ainee), and Kara Young (Plum).

The creative team includes Production Stage Manager Gregory Fletcher, Stage Manager Priscilla Villanueva, and Movement Director Adesola Osakalumi. Along with scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, Costume Design by Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene, lighting Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, and sound design by Megan Culley

We believe in this work so much we’re giving away 4 tickets to the performances on March 10th. 2 tickets to the matinee and two the evening performance thanks to our founder Drew Shade and actress/playwright Jocelyn Bioh. Go to our Instagram to find out how!

Also, find out more about how you can help the Flint Water Crisis and support this show HERE.

Listen to Erika talk about her work on an episode of Off Book Podcast below

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Events and Happenings

Surely Goodness and Mercy by Chisa Hutchinson Begins Off-Broadway

Broadway Black



Performances begin today, Tuesday February 26th, for the New York premiere of  Surely Goodness and Mercy, presented by Keen Company. A story about an exceptional boy living a troubled life in Newark, NJ who does a good deed for an often unnoticed person.   Sarita Covington, Jay Mazyck, Brenda Pressley, Courtney Thomas, and Cezar Williams star under Jessi D. Hill’s direction.

Set in an under-funded public school in Newark, Surely Goodness and Mercy by rising playwright Chisa Hutchinson, tells the story of a bible-toting boy with a photographic memory who befriends the cantankerous old lunch lady. Against all odds, Tino and Bernadette help each other through the mess of growing up and growing old.  

Surely Goodness and Mercy has spent the last year charming audiences across the country: “Notably absent from Hutchinson’s frank and sobering story: cynicism” – Chicago Reader; “(Surely Goodness and Mercy has) a soul-stirring quality, touching audiences with its sincerity” – Daily Utah Chronicle; “it’s impossible not to like it” – The Salt Lake Tribune. Now, Keen is honored to bring this big-hearted new play to New York for the first time.

Performances for this limited Off-Broadway engagement of Surely Goodness and Mercy will continue through Saturday, April 13th only, with opening night set for Wednesday, March 13th.

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