What’s It About?
“Mama, I Want to Sing!” is a heartwarming Black Gospel musical about a young girl named Doris Winter and her journey from church choir singer to global pop star.
Helpful HistoryVy Higginsen
The show has some mighty deep family ties. First, there’s Vy Higginsen, former disc jockey, a respected authority on Jazz, R&B, and Gospel music, and co-creator of “Mama, I Want to Sing!,” America’s longest-running Black off-Broadway musical.
When her daughter’s school cut its arts funding from their budget, Vy was motivated to found the Mama Foundation for the Arts, (where she is now Executive Director) with a mission “to make a joyful noise, to uplift the Black musical treasures of Gospel, Jazz, and R&B, and to heal and inspire through the power of collective music-making.”
Then there is Ken Wydro, husband to the fabulous Vy Higginsen, Creative Director of the Mama Foundation for the Arts, and co-creator of “Mama, I Want to Sing!.”
Together, Vy and Ken wrote both the book and lyrics for “Mama, I Want to Sing!,” and based the story on Vy’s older sister, Doris Troy, and her real-life rise to fame as a pop singer from her humble beginnings singing in her church’s gospel choir.
Then there is Doris Troy, alternatively known as “Mama Soul.”Doris Troy
Doris Troy’s biggest hit was “Just One Look,” a song that gets a sneaky feature in the musical.
“Mama, I Want to Sing!” first premiered in Harlem in 1983 to great success, and now 40 years later, the show is back in the same space, the breathtaking El Museo del Barrio (formerly known as The Heckscher Theatre).El Museo Del Barrio
Oh, and we can’t forget Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson, daughter to Vy Higginsen and Ken Wydro, Artistic Director at Mama Foundation for the Arts, and Director of the 2023 production of “Mama, I Want to Sing!.”
Ahmaya grew up with these stories and songs as a fixture in her life, and she even played the title role of Doris Winter as a teenager. And now, she is back to direct the show for its 40th-anniversary celebration. I mean, how wild is that?
Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson
As I headed into the theatre, I knew nothing about the show other than a vague plot and the fact that the show was a musical, and frankly, that was enough to get me excited.Me at the first night of previews
Admittedly, I am a non-religious Jew who has never really attended church services. Still, as the show played out on stage before me, it was easy to pretend I was seated in a pew at the most fun and energetic church ever. I appreciated the music’s beauty and the church choir’s passion. I also thoroughly enjoyed bouncing in my seat to Gospel songs for a couple of hours straight. The music was just too catchy, and the vocals were unmatched, quite honestly, some of the best I’ve ever heard.
Three teenage actresses play the lead role of Doris Winter in a rotation. I saw Asa Sulton, who tackled Doris with such range (including an impressive whistle register), maturity, and incredible vocal power, that I was shocked to discover this was her first-ever professional performance. In one scene, when she belted out a show-stopping number, “I Don’t Worry About Tomorrow,” in honor of her father, she collapsed to her knees, overcome with grief, and never once faltered in her delivery.
Ms. Director Extraordinaire, Ahmaya Knoelle Higginson, came out during the curtain call to give Asa Sultan an additional shoutout. She explained how difficult it was to find such young talent who could pull off a role as challenging as Doris Winter. When an educator friend pulled twenty students out of class at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School (my alma mater) for her to audition in the hallway, she found three vocal majors to hire, now rotating to play Doris Winter. They don’t call it the “Fame School” for nothing.
I could never have predicted that my high school would get such praise and attention for producing not one, but all three of the show’s leads. I am proud to have even the slightest connection with these girls, all undeniably destined for stardom.
“Mama, I Want to Sing!” is a love letter to family, Black music, Black history, and the performing arts. Please do yourself a favor and get your tickets online HERE while it runs through March 12th, and tell your friends!