Running so far behind on this thing it ain’t even amusing (or noteworthy, but here I go making a note of it). I think I might take a bit of a break until YOUTH INFRINGEMENT kicks in next week, get my mojo working. But first things first…there’s still at least one show I just GOTTA blabber about before recharging, resetting, and various other what-nots.
A few days past now, myself and the lovely Caitlin O were down NAC way for opening night of Belfry Theatre’s BIG MAMA! THE WILLIE MAY THORNTON STORY by Audrei-Karen, and starring the inimitable Jackie Richardson. The story of the titular real-life legend of the Blues herself, MAMA is set up to be about as entertaining as humanly possible while still telling the story of Thornton’s life clearly, vividly, and beautifully. Set in a wood-panelled Blues joint at Christmastime in the early 70’s, The onstage band of Kevin Belzner (drums), Ron Casat (keyboard) and Tim Williams (guitar) get the crowd good and warmed up before the lady takes the stage and immediately has the crowd exactly where she wants them. From there the show takes a foot-stompingly joyous road, alternating incredible blues standards, belted out with Jackie Richardson’s astonishing voice and undeniable charisma, and stories of Thornton’s life and times, from the sweet highs to terrible lows. Growing up in poverty in the deep South, working back-breaking jobs (literally ‘cotton-picking’), and eventually joining the growing number of blues musicians, travelling the juke joint circuit across America until her incredible talent just couldn’t be ignored anymore. I especially had a soft spot for Mama’s retelling of her doomed love for fellow musician Johnny Ace.
A few famous names get dropped along the way…Thornton grudgingly dismisses Elvis Presley for getting rich off of her ‘Hound Dog’ without a red cent coming her way, while giving credit to the Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin for their contributions to the Blues. And the Blues, as Big Mama reminds us time and again, is Life…and seeing this show, it’s hard to argue with her. She had the crowd at the NAC on their feet, clapping and singing along with the kind of joy you can only feel when someone’s belting it right from the heart, and this is one of the most easily guarantee-able good times you’ll ever come across. Jackie Richardson was flat-out born to play this role, and if this show don’t get your blood pumping and your soul soaring then you should probably buzz for the nurse, as you may have flatlined already.
The best of both worlds, MAMA is a brilliant blues show AND terrific theatre in one punch. Can’t recommend a visit enough…it’ll get yer motor running, and that’s the truth. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)