- CHARITY BENEFIT
Lady sings the blues had its world premiere, in the form of the new musical Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues. Opening Saturday night, producer extraordinaire Marty Richards glowed the picture of health. PR guru Judy Jacksina, Mercedes Ruhl, Blythe Danner, Richard Kind, Joan Copeland and the resident of the Hamptons filled the theatre to see Tony Award-winning Lillias White bring the house to its feet.
Based on the life of Maybelle Smith, we are led through her life by a thin book and an over abundance of songs. The sense of what you come away with is this is more of a concert than a theatre piece. Maybelle is first seen in her psychiatric ward bed as she explains how she got there. Born big, with early on-set diabetes, leads her to looking for love i.e. sex in the arms of all the wrong men. When she is used up, they dump her only to use her again because she willingly returns for more abuse. The record company’s stolen from her, her men got her hooked on heroin and knowingly she blames herself for the mess and sings the blues over and over and over, until at the age of 48 she dies.
Maybelle opened for the legendary Billie Holliday who refused to go on after her three standing ovations, sang in clubs like Birdland and the Three Deuces and had a drug overdose/ breakdown at Carnegie Hall. The fabulous diva Lillias White used her remarkable chops to belt out “Until the Real Thing Comes Along,” “Mean to Me,” “What a Difference a Day Makes, “Candy,” and oh so many more. Backed by a stellar band, who played the shadows in her life, the band features Eric Brown on drums doubling as Sully the man who done her wrong not once but three times, Kiku Collins on
trumpet, George Farmer on one hot bass, Jason Marshall soulful on sax, John Putnam James Browning, the guitar and Michael Mitchell tinkling the ivories. The arrangements by Memphis’s Kenny Seymour were good but need more diversity – after all 29 songs is a whole lot of the blues.
Written and directed by Paul Levine this show needs more focus and more book. The video by Joe Lauro was a great touch but again more. Lillias does what Lillias does and that is entertain. Will this make it to Broadway? Not without work and some changes, but that is what this time is for.
Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues: Bay Street Theatre Corner of Bay and Main Streets, Sag Harbor, NY, 11963 thru Sept 2nd