Review: The Belfry Theatre presents Big Mama! The Willie-Mae Thornton Story

Jackie Richardson gives the gift of the blues in Big Mama!

Jackie Richardson (left) and Bill Johnson in Big Mama! The Willie-Mae Thornton Story, playing at the Belfry Theatre until Aug.19.



It’s Christmas in August at the Belfry Theatre as “Canada’s first lady of jazz” Jackie Richardson gives the gift of the blues as she embodies R ‘n’ B legend Big Mama Thornton, in Big Mama! The Willie-Mae Thornton Story, playing until Aug. 19.

Full of big blues sound and both heartbreaking and heartwarming moments, Big Mama! Is an emotional and delectable musical story about a black women working in a man’s world.

Before Elvis Presley, Big Mama Thornton recorded the hit song “Hound Dog,” and before Janis Joplin, she wrote and sang “Ball ‘n’ Chain.” She was a R’n’B queen on the “chitlin’ circuit” and no one dared messing with Big Mama.

Set on Christmas Eve in an early ’70s-style roadhouse, Big Mama! Is as much a live concert as it is theatre.

Backed by a three-piece band, including music director Ron Casat on keys, Andy Graffiti on drums and local Juno-nominated blues guitarist Bill Johnson, Richardson finds a way to not only deliver a stunning musical performance — bringing the audience to their feet before any one left the stage — but she also delivers on the dramatic side, with tears welling up in her eyes when she recounts the hard times Big Mama faced growing up during times of racial segregation in southern U.S.A.

Taking breaks between numbers (some Thornton originals, some covers), Big Mama unfolds the story of blues from the beginning — from times of slavery and racial discrimination to singing with her mother at church and time travelling the world on tour, and reminds the audience that  while the blues are often about the trials and tribulations we face, the “Blues are about getting past all the shit.”

The musical by Audrei-Kairen was originally written for and performed by Richardson, who hasn’t performed the role in almost 10 years until this co-production with the National Arts Centre (Ottawa) and it’s evident that those 10 years have provided Richardson with the life experience to really get into the nitty-gritty of Big Mama’s experience. Her performance is passionate enough to hold the audience’s full attention for the entire 75 minute show (no intermission), and the musicians are talented enough that it feels like the full concert experience, and then some.

Let Big Mama “lay the hurtin’ on ya,” and then build you back up. M

 

Big Mama! The Willie Mae Thornton Story

Belfry Theatre until August 19.

Tickets at belfry.bc.ca or by phone at 250-385-6815

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID Creations opens at the Art Gallery

Rental and sales exhibition features works by 34 local artists

Daniel Lapp’s West Coast Kitchen Party

Join BC’s highly renowned fiddler and folk artist Daniel Lapp for a… Continue reading

Emily Carr show wraps up Canadian Tour at Royal BC Museum

Fresh Seeing opens with exclusive addition of T’anuu

Antimatter festival adapts

Hybrid model brings 100 films

Toronto poet Robert Priest is presenting an online reading on Oct. 24. (Photo courtesy Allen Booth)
Nanaimo spoken word society presents online reading by prolific Toronto poet

Robert Priest to dip into 40-year catalogue for upcoming Zoom reading

Nanaimo singer Elise Boulanger releases her new single, ‘Cigarettes et rosé’ on Oct. 11. (Photo courtesy Laura Baldwinson)
Nanaimo singer releasing new single inspired by overheard conversations

Elise Boulanger to unveil ‘Cigarettes et rosé,’ accompanying ukulele tutorial video to come

Lee Porteous will be one of the performers at the Duncan Showroom’s storytelling event later this month. (Photo Submitted)
Duncan Showroom hosts storytellers series

Monthly shows will be broadcast live on YouTube

The 2020 City of Victoria Youth Poet Laureate Neko Smart will give up her seat for the next young poet in January. (Contributed/ Jeremy Loveday)
Nominations open for Victoria’s 2021 Youth Poet Laureate

Honourary one-year term reserved for region’s emerging poets

Joëlle Rabu and Nico Rhodes present No Regrets, a live-streamed and in-person show featuring the songs of French singer Édith Piaf at the Port Theatre on Oct. 17. (Photo courtesy Vital Image)
Nanaimo mother-son duo pay tribute to Édith Piaf in Nanaimo

Vocalist Joëlle Rabu and pianist and arranger Nico Rhodes present ‘No Regrets’ show Oct. 17

Local poets Ian Cognito and Pat Smekal are releasing their latest collection, ‘Old Bones and Battered Bookends.’ (Photo courtesy Literacy Central Vancouver Island/Image by Jacques Gamelin)
Nanaimo area poets release anthology on aging

Ian Cognito and Pat Smekal present ‘Old Bones and Battered Bookends’

The Arts Alive sculpture Winds of Time by Linda Lindsay which sat in front of the Pharmasave on Oak Bay Avenue in 2019 has been purchased anonymously and will be mounted in the King George Terrace parking lot. (Photo from OakBay.ca)
Winds of Time breezes onto Oak Bay lookout

Donor bought Arts Alive sculpture for Oak Bay lookout

Vancouver Island Regional Library presents reading by Saskatchewan poet laureate

Bruce Rice will read from new book about a photographer who found posthumous success

Most Read