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Stage Review : 'Mama, I Want To Sing' As A Story In Concert

July 11, 1986|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

"Mama, I Want to Sing" at the Beverly Theatre has strong voices and a beat, but the story isn't a story at all, and the staging is, well, relaxed.

The form is this: A disc jockey (Vy Higginsen, who produced and co-wrote the show) sits in a booth above the stage and narrates a "broadcast" relating how that famous pop star, Doris Winter, had the courage to follow her dream to stardom, even when she had to go against her mother, who wanted her to reserve her singing for the church choir.

"But let's go to the music to see what happened," Higginsen keeps saying, and there will be a church scene, or a nightclub scene, or (best) a scene where Mama Winter (Doris Troy) really gets steamed at her teen-age daughter (Deitra Hicks) for sneaking off to win the talent night contest at the Half Note.

Young Doris quakingly announces that she has a chance to go out on the road if Mama will only sign this release form right now. (It's 3 o'clock in the morning.) Mama asks Jesus for the strength not to wallop this child from here to Sunday. Their voices raise in musical combat, and it looks as if we are in for some drama.

But just then Sister Carrie (Kathleen Palmer-Murphy) comes in and calms Mama down by reminding her that she and Papa (Alexander Plummer Jr.) had their dreams as young folks too. Two minutes later, Doris has a hit record out. That's about it for the plot, although the show still has business to do, including deliver a plug for itself via Higginsen's "broadcast."

This "story in concert" works best as a concert, but even there there's something jerry-built about it. The strongest number was the title song, once more sung by Hicks and Troy. The lyrics (by Higgensen and Ken Wydro) were hard to catch over the show's erratic sound system, but the tune (by Rudolph V. Hawkins and Pat Holley) was catchy and surprising, with a hint of a droning bagpipe in its first strain.

The other songs--gospel songs, torch songs, blues, ballads--don't have much profile, although the cast and the choir put a lot of "personality" into them. Troy as Mama (the story is based on her adventures breaking into the business) is the show's surest and best-focused talent. Hicks is its most promising one: Her voice is capable of some hair-raising tricks way up above the staff. One hopes she's taking care of it.

In general, "Mama" falls into some awkward area between "Dreamgirls" and talent night at the Half Note. (We even get impressions of Lena Horne, Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday, etc.) It's not really polished, but it does know to insist--certainly Higginsen does, up in the booth--and for some that spells show-biz magic. Mama--could we go home? 'MAMA, I WANT TO SING' A "story in concert" at the Beverly Theatre. Written by Vy Higginsen and Ken Wydro, with music by Rudolph V. Hawkins, Pat Holley, Steven Taylor and Doris Troy. Director Wydro. Musical director Rudolph V. Hawkins. Scenic designer Llewellyn Harrison. Lighting designer Sandra Ross. Choreographer Alan Weeks. Production stage manager Otis White. Conductor Steven Taylor. With Deitra Hicks, Doris Troy, Alexander Plummer Jr., Kathleen Murphy-Palmer, Diana King, Charles Stewart and the Reach Ensemble, Shilla Benning, Karen Bernod, Reginald Brisbain, Labouy Blake, Fatima, Laurette Clarke, Joe Coleman, Pierre Cook, Cecil Crews, Gaillou Freeman, Ronald Grant, Lynda Haynes, Miriam Hicks, Vincent Holman, Ramona Keller, Andre Smith, Renee Harris, Kellie Evans, Kathy Rowley, Hedreich Guillory. Plays Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., with matinees Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets $19.75-$25.00. 9404 Wilshire Blvd. (213) 274-7106.

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