Musical at the Alex sings songs of survival


A musical whose back story was inspired by survivors of the Armenian Genocide is coming to the Alex Theatre this weekend.

“I Am Alive,” co-written and co-composed by Denise Gentilini and Lisa Nemzo, will be performed at the historic downtown Glendale venue Saturday and Sunday. It premiered in Denver last year as part of a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 1915 genocide.

The roughly 90-minute musical tells the story of two disparate Armenian Christians, Kourken and Malvine, who live hundreds of miles away from one another but are nonetheless affected by the genocide. Both of their lives are uprooted, and they are forced to leave their homeland.

They eventually meet in a Greek refugee camp and fall in love.

The tale was inspired by Gentilini’s grandparents, also named Kourken and Malvine, who also survived the genocide and met in a refugee camp. In the 1950s, they relocated to the United States.

In 2002, Gentilini, an Emmy Award winner, released a documentary about her grandparents called “The Handjian Story: A Road Less Traveled.” Transcripts from the film are used in the musical.

“I Am Alive” shows the “strength of the human spirit and the resilience of the Armenian people,” Gentilini said,

“We tell the history as best we can without making it look like a documentary,” she added. “People are going to get an education about the Armenian Genocide and hopefully want to do more research on their own.”

The production doesn’t use any sets, but it does feature projections behind the cast, who are in period costumes, to help enhance the story.

Gentilini, who is Armenian, didn’t originally set out to write a full-on musical. She originally wanted to write an anthem for the genocide’s 100th commemoration, but soon realized it should be a bigger work.

Nemzo, who has collaborated with Gentilini in the past, agreed.

“One of the reasons I did this is to bring some sense of closure and healing to the Armenian people and community,” Nemzo said. “Hopefully, the next generation of Turkey will recognize their responsibility and apologize for what happened. That’s what I want for the Armenian people — awareness so that we don’t allow genocides to be happening.”

Nemzo said that as she worked on the project, it was as if Gentilini’s grandparents’ were “with us every step of the way.”

“It was unbelievable how things fell into place, how the songs seemed to write themselves,” she said.

“I Am Alive,” directed by Christy Montour-Larson, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.

Tickets start at $25 and are available by calling (818) 243-2539 or visiting


Bradley Zint,

Twitter: @BradleyZint