By Carmen Glover
The Mama Foundation for the Arts’ premiere performance of its off-Broadway musical Alive! played to a full house in Harlem’s Dempsey Theater on Saturday, October 5. Co-creators Vy Higginsen and her husband Ken Wydro greeted the crowd and a representative from sponsor, AARP shared a few words. Wydro, who directed the production, revealed that the show’s concept was derived from necessity.
“We were holding auditions and noticed that a lot of people were auditioning who were in their fifties and sixties,” he explained. Eventually, they decided to create the show as a vehicle for more seasoned singers who would be able to tap into their life experiences to offer a raw glimpse of triumph over tribulation. The result is a show that is rich in range and textured with a mixture of shared experiences and some level of diversity.
Comprised of both men and women, Alive! weaves a tale of people who persevered despite challenges in order to triumph over the demons of their past. It tells a story of redemption, hope, resilience and determination. Told through a musical repertoire that runs the gamut from gospel, to reggae, to jazz, rhythm and blues, Alive! illustrates the power of the human spirit to endure, rise above painful circumstances and walk in the light of hope and destiny.
Alive! begins with a heavy reliance on gospel classics such as “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” “I have a Testimony,” “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,” and “Take the Lord with you,” As the story develops, various members of the cast shared snippets of their background before delivering thunderous renditions of individual numbers that best reflect the theme of their lives. The audience was interactive, singing along to a solid rendition of Tamala Mann’s “Take me to the king,” and “I Will Always Love You.”
But it was when the performer walked calmly to the edge of the stage and effortlessly belted out The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” that the audience erupted in cheers, waves and a standing ovation. The singer’s clear delivery belied the harsh life of struggle that he described and the consequences he paid for the indiscretions of his youth. But his story of redemption was so compelling that the appreciative crowd showed him with applause, reluctant to see him leave the stage. Act one ended on a high with a searing rendition of “The Impossible Dream.”
At the conclusion of a brief intermission, the show resumed with renditions including “Salvation Day,” that featured a performer sharing his narrative while banging smoothly on a drum. Other staples followed in short order. Among them were: “She Works Hard for the Money,” Georgia on my Mind,” Neither one of us,” “Slow Hand,” “If I could” and “Amazing Grace.” The performer who delivered a poignant version of the James Ingram classic “Find 100 Ways” almost brought the show to a standstill as an appreciative crowd clapped energetically, whistled, shouted and simply reveled in an exquisite rendition of a song that is as timeless as it is beautiful.
Although the musical numbers in Alive! were delivered with precision and accuracy, the show itself could benefit from a more tightly developed story line that is not as reliant on piecemeal narratives. That element of the production, if addressed, would transform the show into an exceptional masterpiece because the other elements such as the singing, lighting and appeal of the show unquestionably come together to provide moments of levity blended with sadness and joy.
The modest ticket prices make Alive! affordable, providing an excellent idea for a special occasion such as a first date. Attendees can use their ticket stubs to receive discounts at participating restaurants and parking garages, adding more incentive for those who are indecisive about attending the show. Alive! is scheduled to run every Saturday through November 16 and is real treat that music lovers would not want to miss For more information, please visit www.mamafoundation.org.–OnPointPress.net