The world premiere of Big Maybelle: Soul Of The Blues, featuring the incredible Tony Award winner Lillias White, is off to a great start at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. Now playing through September 2, this tells the story of the American jazz singer as she rises to the top and her heart wrenching fall from glory.
Lillias White was brilliant as Big Maybelle, the (mostly) lone character of this production. The show begins with Big Maybelle at a psychiatric hospital that she has been in and out of for years. We then flashback and she is telling us about her career leading up to her hospitalization and the last years of her life before her death in 1972.
Ms. White didn’t miss a beat as she sang each of the 28 numbers of the two-act musical. Some of Maybelle’s biggest hits were incorporated in the show including “Candy”, “That’s A Pretty Good Love”, and “Comin’ Home Baby”.
One of the best things about the show is its intimate structure starting off with the beautiful Bay Street Theatre. The stage is set “in the round” with 300 seats going half way around the stage like a mini stadium. This gave Ms. White the opportunity to acknowledge the audience regularly and include us in the show.
Projections of the actual Big Maybelle, those she worked with, and pictures from her shows also adorned the bare back wall of the theatre.
On the small, rotating area that was stage right, they had three sections. One was Maybelle’s room at the psychiatric hospital, another section was the living room at her home, and finally a dressing room when she was in concert.
Additionally, an integral part of the show was the fantastic 6 piece orchestra. They were set up stage left and included Eric Brown on the drums, Kiku Collins on the trumpet, George Farmer on the bass, Jason Marshall on Sax, Musical Director Michael Mitchell on Piano, and John Putnam on Guitar. They were included in the show many times as Maybelle’s band for the concert scenes and interacted with Ms. White throughout the show.
From the band, Eric Brown also portrayed Sully. He is an old boyfriend who got Maybelle hooked on drugs and gave her serious self-image issues which had Big Maybelle end up at the psychiatric center. Kiku Collins was also part of the show. She was in the “Hair Dressing Women” performance and, in another scene, a random woman that Sully met while he was with Maybelle.
Even though Big Maybelle mostly had a tumultuous career, some happier times were highlighted as well. One time she opened a show for Billie Holiday. Big Maybelle was so well received, she had multiple encores, Billie stormed out the back door of the club refusing to go on. This was a huge turning point in Big Maybelle’s career.
I’m excited to see what is next for Big Maybelle: Soul Of The Blues. It seems to soar in an intimate environment, so I can’t wait to see how it builds.
Big Maybelle: Soul Of The Blues is presented by the Bay Street Theatre of Sag Harbor, Long Island through September 2nd. Written and Directed by Paul Levine, Musical Direction by Michael Mitchell, Orchestrations, Arrangements, and Musical Supervision by Kenny Seymour, Set Design by John Arone, Lighting Design by Paul Miller, Costume Design by ESosa, Sound Design by Tony Melfa, Properties Design by Kathy Fabian, Projections by Michael Clark, Archival Film Footage by Joe Lauro, Technical Direction by Scott Bartley. For more information and to purchase tickets, call the box office at (631) 725 – 9500 or visit www.baystreet.org.