When “Born for This: The BeBe Winans Story” receives its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre next January, it will have been in the works for nearly a decade. But the gospel star, whose rise to fame with sister CeCe Winans from his late teens through late 20s is captured in the musical that features mainly new songs by him, said delayed gratification is sweet.
“It really has been a journey,” Winans told the AJC. “Especially when you’re younger, you feel it has to be now and this can’t wait. But you learn with time and patience that there’s a season for everything. So I’m so glad that it’s happening now, that it’s happening at the Alliance and Arena Stage and those that will follow.”
Announced this week as part of the Alliance’s 2015-16 season, “Born for This,” a coproduction with Washington’s Arena Stage, will star siblings Deborah Joy Winans and Juan Winans as their famous uncle and aunt.
BeBe discussed the show, which includes roles for Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, on whose “The PTL Club” they became stars, and their early friend Whitney Houston …
On some recent positive feedback: “We had these readings last weekend in New York that Oprah Winfrey came to and Gayle King and Cicely Tyson and other important people. … You know, they say you don’t get standing ovations at readings, and we received a standing ovation. It was quite amazing.”
On sharing his memories: “So much of it is a coming-of-age story, where we left home (in Detroit) and all the things we knew, which was pretty much a black-oriented school and church. And we were thrust into the South, where there were 4,000 (PTL Ministry) employees and four of them were African-American.
“It was a life-changing experience. We dealt with being away from home, we dealt with racism, we dealt with little things that were so different. Sports to me was basketball. And I found myself rock-climbing. I didn’t know that was a sport…”
On what his mom told CeCe back then after repeatedly hearing BeBe was doing new things with new friends: “I’ve always been a people person, I love people. CeCe was a homebody, and (my mother) would call and ask where I was. CeCe would tell her, ‘He’s out with friends, doing this, doing that.’ And my mom told CeCe one time to remind me that I was a black man!”
On collaborating with “Motown the Musical” director Charles Randolph-Wright: “He’s very, very talented, and he knows my story, so it was easy to trust him. One thing I never will forget, he brought (a scene) to me, and it talked about threats on me and my sister. And I said, ‘I don’t remember no threats, Charles.’
“Then I was having dinner with Jim Bakker, who is still an incredible friend and father figure to me, love him with all my heart. And I gave him some of the script and told him that I had allowed Charles to take some leeway and that he had put in that we had had some threats. And Jim looked at me said, ‘Oh, there were a lot of threats.’
“He had protected us from them.”
On how much of his story is told through song and how much through dialogue: “It’s 50-50. … It’s songs that I wrote because of the scene and what we were saying, and what we left off in dialogue, the song told the rest of the story. I’ve always loved poetry, so the songs that I’ve written for this musical, I love to explore and cause the listener to go for a little ride with me before they know the answer.”
On what he feels is a universal quality about his story: “It’s a piece that I believe that touches everyone’s life. Everyone understands and has experienced loss. And the loss of my brother (Ronald in 2005 to heart-related issues) was something I never will forget, and every day I think of him. (The show is) something, I think, for everyone.”
On if the work is basically done and the show complete: “It’s done, but there are little things. In being a songwriter, I’ve always said a song of mine was never safe until it was out in the public. So even when we feel ‘Oh, this is ready for prime-time,’ (changes) can continue and that’s the beauty.”
On why he’s excited about premiering “Born for This” at the Alliance: “I knew a little bit about the Alliance but it was Charles Randolph-Wright (who pushed for the Atlanta company), because we had other regional theaters that asked us even earlier to premiere it. He said it’s the Alliance, and when I met (Alliance artistic director) Susan Booth when we came to Atlanta and did a reading, I understood exactly.
“I find her to be amazing, find her to be a doctor when it comes to dialogue. It’s not easy for me to take notes, but I can take any note that Susan gives. Her influence has been keen, and the staff has been wonderful. So I understood why (Randolph-Wright insisted upon) the Alliance.
“I believe when you birth a child you want to be at the best hospital and have the best doctor deliver the baby, and I find the Alliance to be just that. I’m very excited to birth this child at the Alliance Hospital!”
On his Broadway hopes for the musical: “That’s the Alliance’s goal, that’s our goal, that’s the Arena Stage’s goal. Oh yes, it is Broadway bound!”
Catch up to the AJC’s coverage of the Alliance 2015-16 season: artsculture.blog.ajc.com.