“Alive” is a glitzy musical production highlighting the trials, tribulations and ultimate triumphs of the 55+ age group through faith in the Lord and the belief that you are never too old to do what you love.
One of the shows in the Black American Musical Theater Series in Harlem, “Alive” is written by former radio personality, Vy Higginsen and Ken Wydro. The music is an energetic mixture of gospel, R&B and classic vintage tunes.
The musical is based on true stories. Cast members described everything from struggling with medical conditions to living with illiteracy, and how they were overcome. They would then sing a tune which relates to that experience. Many of the tales dealt with broken marriages and the aftermaths. Some of the songs were made famous by notable artists such as Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston, Ray Charles, George Benson, Regina Bell, The Platters, as well as some well-known movie tunes such as “As Time Goes By.”
Some of the most moving and poignant moments came early in the musical when a female cast member described her 17 surgery ordeal with cancer and her ultimate triumph. After her hearty rendition of “Take Me to the King”, the audience was on their feet.
Another memorable story was that of a man coming to New York at an early age when drug selling and use was rampant, becoming addicted to drugs, convicted of a crime and subsequently spending 40 years in a maximum security prison cell. However, he found love, was married in prison and described his many days wondering if his wife would be there when finally freed. You could hear the pain and longing in his voice when he sung The Platters, “I Need Your Love”. At the end of the song, his wife walks on stage and they share a tender embrace.
A female vocalist spoke of losing three loves in her life, but only named two. The most devastating was the lost of her son to cancer at age 34. After this lost, she felt like she had nothing left to live for when God sent her third love. It wasn’t clear why she chose to sing the song made famous by Whitney Houston, “I’ll Always Love You”, if the Lord had provided her with this third love – she didn’t say, but perhaps this love was also lost. Her voice was hauntingly close to Whitney’s.
One more tale of triumph has to be mentioned. This is the tale of a man who was the 4th of 17 siblings. He came to New York from the south at 16, illiterate and a drunkard. At age 50, he was still illiterate and an alcoholic. The Lord had not given up on him though. He went back to school learned how to read and write and was proud to say that he was the grand prize winner in an essay contest competing with 250 entrants. He now celebrates 28 years of sobriety. He sang “Amazing Grace”.
There were many more stories reflecting the ebbs and tides of life to be heard and shared with future audiences.
“Alive” gives us an amazing balance of melancholy, sass and uplifting music from the past and not so distant past. This show is worth seeing for pure entertainment or a spiritual affirmation.
Vy Higginsen created the Mama Foundation for the Arts to help re-establish Harlem as an artistic and cultural centerpiece of the world. Mama’s mission is to present, preserve and promote gospel, jazz and R&B for current and future generations. Performances of “Alive” resume on March 8, 2014.
For more information, on “Alive” or other Black American Musical Theater Series in Harlem, please go to www.mamafoundation.org (212) 280-1045.