The team that created several incarnations of the musical Mama, I Want to Sing has come up with a new revue that sounds like a gospel version of It Ain't Nuthin' But the Blues. Titled Gospel Is, the musical looks at the history of gospel, its performers, its spirit and its best known songs.
Created by Vy Higginsen and Ken Wydro (book & lyrics) and Wesley Naylor (music and orchestrations), Gospel Is will play, appropriately enough, at the Williams Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, NY, starting Oct. 9. Wydro directs the show, which is produced by the Mama Foundation for the Arts, dedicated to restoring Harlem as a mecca for arts and culture.
Doris Troy, the original star of Mama, I Want to Sing (and upon whose life that show was based), will also perform in Gospel Is, as will Richard Hartley (as "the Minister of Music"), Darryl Copeland, Knoelle Higginsen-Wydro, Tonya Lewis, Kelvin Lowery, Darren Page, Sissy Peoples, Melanie Price, Dejahnee Richardson, Melvin Thomas, choreographer Anita Wells and the New York Reach Ensemble.
Among the legendary gospel performers saluted in the revue are Shirley Caesar, Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson. The "Mama" shows, including Born To Sing, which played downtown at the Union Square Theatre, were more narrative-driven musicals, where gospel songs alternated with melodrama.
According to a show spokesperson at Keith Sherman & Associates, a CD of songs in the revue, to be produced by Higginson, will be available by mid-late September. Designing the show are Marlon Campbell (lighting), Wayne Dickens (sound) and Theresa Morris (costumes).
Gospel Is will play only four shows a week (three on Saturdays, one on Sundays) at the Williams Lafayette Theatre, 2225 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd (at 131 Street). For tickets ($19.50-$25) and information call (212) 280-1045.
-- By David Lefkowitz