The Alliance Theatre's newest musical "Born for This: The Bebe Winans Story" based on
The Alliance Theater’s production of Born For This: The Bebe Winans Story is the incredible, hilarious, moving and music-saturated story of six-time Grammy Winner musical icon Bebe Winans and his equally talented Grammy winning sister Cece, and how they went from poverty and obscurity to international celebrity and music stardom. It runs through May 15th and is full of original music as well as Winans family hits. Written by Bebe Winans and renowned director and playwright Charles Randolph-Wright (Motown The Musical) with music direction by Steven Jam ail, the show follows Bebe and Cece's tumultuous road to musical stardom and struggle to balance their quest for celebrity with their higher calling. A co-production of the Alliance with Washington’s Arena Stage in association with My Destiny Productions and Daniel Chilewich and Todd Gershwin, the musical tells the little known story of the youngest Winans from the time they left home in Detroit at the ages of 17 and 15, respectively, their culture shock as they moved to the South, becoming the only non white members, then stars of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's PTL Singers and their later, independent surge to fame.
In the words of Bebe Winans: “When you’re a teenager you don’t think your life is being recorded for others to learn from, or be healed by, or better yet to find strength through your fears and failures. Now I know that these were God’s plans for my life. We’re all born for a purpose. This musical celebrates the journey of finding it.”
Just about everybody has heard of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, founders of Heritage International and co-hosts of “The PTL (Praise the Lord) Club,” the largest and most well-known of Christian television talk/entertainment shows. Their controversial program as well as their scandal-torn lives was the fodder of news and gossip throughout the 80’s and 90’s. What may have been overlooked is the role that two attractive and talented young singers Bebe and Cece Winans played in making “The PTL Club” so popular. The Bakkers discovered these two young singers, took them under their wings, thrusting them into the national spotlight. And truly…stars were born!
One of the big treats of this production, which is filled with them, is the casting of Juan Winans and Deborah Joy Winans (nephew and niece of Bebe himself and accomplished performers in their own right) in the roles of Bebe and Cece, youngest siblings of the Winans family dynasty. It is obvious that amazing talent still runs in the Winans family. Both of them give dynamite performances, and - oh my! - can they sing!!! The duo have ample opportunity to blow the socks off of the audience - and they do it every single time!! Juan Winans is a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, and sister Deborah Joy Winans is currently filming “Greenleaf,” the OWN original TV series for which BeBe Winans is the Executive Music Producer.
Chaz Pofahl and Kirsten Wyatt virtuosically fill the roles of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and they are right on target. Their goofy sincerity, media lust and entrepreneurial drive bring the house down with hilarity and surprising believability. Kirsten Wyatt's exceptional comedy, vocal and dramatic chops get special mention. She squeezes every ounce of comic and emotional juice in her stand out Tammy Faye Bakker!
Two other standouts are Mom and Pop Winans, the cherished and revered heads of the Winans clan. Brilliantly played by both Milton Craig Nealy and Nita Whitaker, they easily won the hearts of every one in the audience. They combine down-home wisdom and gospel integrity as they guide, challenge and scold and encourage their hyper talented children. Nita Whitaker's soulful and beautiful rendition of her solo near the end of the show Seventh Son made for a moving and powerful moment for the entire audience. Craig Nealy had an amazing Gospel acapella tour d' force earlier on with his Praise the Lord Reprise and I Got a New Home.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening is the incredible singing talent of each and every member of the exceptional cast. Nearly every member of the gifted ensemble gets the chance to belt it out, and most of them bring the house down, every time. Beautiful, passionate, perfectly pitched and filled with energy, many of the songs brought enthusiastic encores from the audience. Of special note, besides those mentioned above were Brad Raymond as Ronald Winans (Bebe’s older brother and himself a well-known gospel singer) and Kiandra Richardson as Whitney Houston, one of the Winans closest friends and biggest supporters. Ms. Richardson absolutely stunned with her rendition of “Applause". She got Whitney’s remarkable style picture and singing range, prowess and inflection down.
Nearly flawless in acting and music, the magical and mesmerizing lighting designed by Diane Ferry Williams must also be mentioned. Of course, regionally the Alliance Theater is second to none in stage production, and the Born for This production is as close to perfect as you can get. Powerful, passionate, hilarious, moving and transformative, this show is filled with what makes for great musical theater: bigger than life characters, challenges, tragedy, heartache and faith that moves mountains and helps overcome obstacles to find success, happiness and fulfillment. It is a feel-good, crowd-pleasing experience that will have you lifted-up, smiling, humming and singing the show's songs as you leave the theater.
For tickets for Born For This: The Bebe Winans Story at The Alliance Theater's Woodruff Arts Center (1280 Peachtree Street NE 30309) Susan V. Booth, Jennings Hertz Artistic Director call (404) 733-5000 or for more details www.alliancetheatre.org. Parking is available both, in advance or the night of, on Arts Center Way directly behind the theater.
Follow the creators of Born For This on Twitter - @thebebewinans and @divatamer.
Regular performances of Born For This: The BeBe Winans Story are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. through May 15, 2016.
Dinner and Show with TRACE
$75 package includes dinner at TRACE (W Atlanta – Midtown, 188 14th St. NE) and a ticket to Born For This: The BeBe Winans Story. The farm to table dinner includes a choice of an appetizer, entrée and dessert from a select chef’s menu. Use promo code TRACE75 to purchase at alliancetheatre.org/bornforthis or call 404.733.5000 to reserve today.