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

Broadway Black

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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

Nicolette Robinson, Leslie Odom Jr., & Cynthia Erivo Sign On to Produce Witness Uganda

Drew Shade

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It’s official! Tony Award winners Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (Hamilton), along with his wife Nicolette Robinson (Waitress) have joined on as producers for the biographical contemporary musical Witness UgandaAbigail Spencer of Hulu’s Timeless has also joined this list of new producers

Formerly Insivible Thread, Witness Uganda has currently extended its West Coast premiere until March 3rd at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Creators Griffin Matthews and Matt Gould take on the roles of director and musical director respectively. The show has added new material and musical numbers since it’s Off-Broadway run at Second Stage Theater.

Based on a true story, Witness Uganda follows Griffin, a New York City-based American volunteer, as he arrives in Uganda to help build a village school and escape his church’s condemnation of his sexuality. When he falls into a complicated relationship with a group of destitute, orphaned teenagers, he finds himself driven by a mission that will change his and their lives forever. From the rolling hills of the Ugandan countryside to a stifling apartment in New York City, from a joyous celebration of African youth to a terrifying abduction 8,000 miles away, Witness Uganda explores the question, “is changing the world even possible?”

The musical stars twelve-time Grammy nominee, Ledisi as Rain Lady/Church Lady, Hamilton alum & Off Book Podcast co-host Amber Iman as Joy,  and original cast member of Invisible Thread Jamar Williams now takes on the role of Griffin.

READ: Ledisi, Amber Iman, Jamar Williams & More Star in Witness Uganda West Coast Premiere

The cast also features Emma Hunton (Ryan), Kameron Richardson (Jacob), Naärai (Grace), Sha’leah Nikole (Eden), Dexter Darden (Ibrahim), Jordan Barrow (Ronny), Jai’len Josey (Vocalist/Understudy for Rain Lady/Church Lady) and Antwone BarnesKennan D Washington and Thurzday holding down the ensemble.

The creative team is rounded out with choreography by Abdur-Rahim Jackson, music supervision by Remy Kurs, sets by Connor MacPhee, lighting by David Hernandez, costumes by Carlton Jones, and sound design by Martin Carrillo.

For more info visit Witness Uganda

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Events and Happenings

Iconic Entertainer Gregory Hines Honored With a Black Heritage Series Stamp

Drew Shade

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Savion Glover; Maurice Hines, Gregory’s brother; and Daria Hines, Gregory’s daughter Photo courtesy of USPS

The U.S. Postal Service honored iconic entertainer Gregory Hines with a Black Heritage Series stamp in a ceremony on January 28th. As the 42nd entry in the series, the stamp featuring a 1988 photo of a smiling Hines is now available at Post Offices and usps.com. 

At the ceremony Tony Award winner Savion Glover talked about the role Hines played in elevating tap into an art form and the value of his work. Joining him in the celebration were Maurice Hines, actor, dancer, choreographer, and Hines’ brother; Daria Hines, actress, costume designer, and Hines’ daughter; dancers Chloe and Maud Arnold; Tony Waag, the American Tap Dance Foundation’s artistic director, and tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith.

“I don’t exist without this man,” said Glover, “These young people that you see, they aren’t born without this. We are not here today without this.”

The Chief Postal Inspector, Gary Barksdale, who led the ceremony, said “Gregory Hines was an extraordinary artist in every sense of the word. This Forever stamp pays tribute to his life and career as an actor, singer and most importantly, as a performer whose unique style of tap dancing injected new artistry and excitement into a traditional American form.”

Gregory Hines’ Broadway credits include Eubie!, Sophisticated Ladies, & Comin’ Uptown,  all of which garnered him Tony Award nominations. He became a Tony Award winner for his starring role in “Jelly’s Last Jam” in 1992. In 2003 he passed away at 57 years old from cancer.

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