By Carmen Glover
Harlem’s Dempsey Theater was packed on Saturday, October 26 as Mama I Want to Sing:The Next Generation made its debut to an appreciative and supportive audience. A revival of the memorable 1983 gospel musical Mama I want to Sing, the play is co-written by the Vy Higginsen and her husband Ken Wydro. It describes the journey of Doris Troy, Higginsen’s older sister, who overcame her mother’s objections to her decision to leave her gospel roots, follow her heart and seek musical fulfillment as a contemporary singer.
Troy excelled and recorded the 1963 hit “Just One Look” which catapulted her to a successful career that allowed her to work with a staple of mega-stars such as the Beatles, James Brown and The Rolling Stones. Mama is currently celebrating 30 years of performances and 25 years of shows in Japan. The play will travel to Japan for December and January, 2014. “On December 1 we will be leaving for Japan and we will play there for six weeks, celebrating 25 years in Japan and 30 years in New York City,” Higginsen said as she acknowledged Japanese audience members, some of whom were filming the performance.
The revival leaps out the gate with the choir’s high octane singing and musical direction by the irrepressible minister of music, hilariously played by Elijah Ahmad Lewis, whose physical contortions and telling expressions generated their own fan base. The play is narrated by Higginsen, who infuses the right mixture of excitement and solemnity depending on what is being described. Tyrone Flowers and Bettina Dowtin render credible performances as the Reverend and Mama Winter while Sandra Huff is entertaining as Sister Carrie. But the show belonged unquestionably to the lead, played in outstanding form by Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson, Troy’s niece.
Higginson is expressive, vulnerable, charming, witty, defiant and extraordinary as she embodies the different emotions demanded by the role. She delivers, every time, with aplomb. Higginson uses her voice as an instrument capable of a myriad of ranges, peaks and valleys, carrying the audience along an exquisite and rapturous thrill ride that envelopes patrons in a cocoon of sheer joy. She sings with such unadulterated ease, communicating her emotions so eloquently that she instantly becomes the focus of immense good will; the person that everyone roots for; the heroine everyone wants to not just succeed, but shine.
Mama I Want to Sing: The Next Generation describes ambition, heartache, rebellion, faith and the fierce determination that is only seen in individuals who ignore potential pitfalls while focusing firmly on their passion and life purpose.
For tickets and other information please contact the Mama Foundation for the Arts’ Box Office at (212)-280-1045 or visit mamafoundation.org – OnPointPress.net