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

Just Posted

Mix and mingle at free artist talk today atop Bastion Square parkade

Public art the topic of panel discussion; concert, food and beverage options also part of evening

Taking risks: Victoria theatre expert and author gains traction for his new model of tragedy

Edwin Wong releases Risk Theatre book, hosts successful global playwriting competition

Award-nominated Snotty Nose Rez Kids headline this weekend’s Indigifest 2019 in Esquimalt

Aug. 24 event at Esquimalt Gorge Park showcases Indigenous musicians, artists from around B.C.

Region’s 250th Little Free Library installed in Victoria

Greater Victoria now has the highest density of mapped little libraries in the country

PHOTO GALLERY: Cyclists were all smiles during ninth Tour de Victoria

More than 2,100 cyclists participated, locals and visitors alike

VIDEO: Title of 25th Bond movie is ‘No Time to Die’

The film is set to be released in April 2020

New ‘Matrix’ film set with Keanu Reeves and Lana Wachowski

Fourth installment to feature Reeves as Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity

Margaret Atwood talks Handmaid’s Tale sequel at UVic

Sold-out Sept. 27 event illustrates iconic Canadian author’s popularity in literary haven of Victoria

For the Love of Fibre: Fibrations 2019 wrapup

Fibre arts celebrated through demonstrations and market showcasing locally made items

Tour de Victoria: Giving you the down low on detours around the region

Thousands of cyclists participating in ninth Tour de Victoria on Saturday

Christopher Auchter’s story headed to the international stage at Toronto International Film Fest

Old Massett totem pole raising revisited in Christopher Auchter’s documentary Now Is The Time

Saanich Peninsula student scores only scholarship for Canadians offered by top U.S. music school

Stelly’s grad Isaiah Carvalhal-Smith and his electric bass off to Boston after successful audition

Yellow Wolf Powwow draws dancers from across Canada

Saanichton event a celebration of Indigenous culture

Victoria-based elephant advocate fighting to end ivory trade

Founder of World Elephant Day hopes to spread awareness, add political pressure

Most Read