God bless Tyler Perry.
On Saturday, March 6, 2010, I had the pleasure of watching his play “Madea’s Big Happy Family” at the Arie Crown Theatre in Chicago.
The second I heard Tyler Perry was going back on the road--after 5 years--I made sure to secure some tickets. Of course, living in Canada, we often do not have the luxury of seeing tours, performances and movies in the same timely and convenient manner that our American neighbours do.
So I did what I normally do in search of uplifting entertainment, motivation, and most importantly, inspiration…I got myself a plane ticket and made plans with my friend in the Windy City for a weekend on the town.
I admit, the first hour or so, “Madea’s Big Happy Family” could have easily been “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” or any other number of Perry’s great stage shows-turned-motion-pictures. And while I’ve laughed, sang, and cheered with the best of them watching his previous stories, this particular one at first seemed like, well, a typical Tyler Perry production.
And rightfully so. While the story and the characters didn’t necessarily move me in the beginning, by the time they got into the second act, I began to get the familiar goosebumps and creative energy that I regularly crave from theatrical and musical productions. When the character of Shirley (played by Chandra Currelley-Young) died, and sang her way to heaven, I remembered the recent passing of Tyler Perry's mother and began to really feel the spirit of his message.
Cassie Davie was there (Ella on “House of Payne”), Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley was there (also a regular in Perry’s productions), among many other cast members. Please note: it’s an absolute prerequisite that before you even step foot on Mr. Perry’s stage, that you have the ability to blow the roof off the venue with your voice. This cast could SANG!
Jeffery Lewis, as Byron, and Zuri Craig, as Donnie, particularly stood out with their vocals. These two young men were selected for the production after Perry discovered them singing on YouTube.
So singing, acting, and story-telling aside, what really made the night was Tyler’s un-scripted portion of the evening where he, as Madea, spoke to his family after Shirley’s funeral. With a captive audience, and a vulnerable on-stage family, he preached.
And boy, did he preach!
He said it all. If you were heartbroken, financially challenged, a single parent, a single woman, a hard worker, a discouraged youth, he had a message for you! And there’s something about the way he speaks that made you forget everything else that just happened, or is about to happen on stage. With the confidence of a pastor, the humour of a stand-up comic, and the heart of a real family member, he made sure to get his messages across.
He spoke to the youth about excelling in life, and even threw in a chorus of “lookin’ like a fool with your Pants on the Ground” (from recent American Idol fame). He spoke about mortages. He spoke about eliminating family secrets. All without breaking character, and while still cracking jokes in Madea's familiar tone.
This for me was the key moment of the evening. Remembering that Tyler Perry--who was hours away from catching a flight to present at Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony--still found it important to tour the country and share his words of encouragement.
Perry, who is the first African-American to own his own motion picture studio. Perry, who has achieved Hollywood success and fame. Perry, who really didn’t have to take a step back and bring Madea to life on stage again, since he’s been doing it so well on the big screen. But he was still dedicated enough to his fans and to his craft, and humble enough to get up there like it was 1997, and give his people a great show.
Below, Tyler Perry thanks the Chicago audience for their continuous support, and talks about his appearance at the Academy Awards ceremony the following night.
This is why I admire this man so much. Because he hasn’t forgotten where he came from, the people who made him who he is, and he made sure that despite the other great things going on in his life, that he put himself on a tour bus for a few months to reconnect with his loyal fans.
It was a great night! I’m glad I made the trip, and I’m glad I got to experience the play with hearty crowd that cheered, sang, hooted and hollered, and clapped along with the message and music.
The music! The last scene consisted almost entirely of various cast members singing R&B classics as the family members reminiced at the end of the funeral scene. I saw hands waving in the air, heard people in the audience singing along to "I'm Going Do-wn" in full voice, and just felt the love and the pride in the room.
I felt great being there. What an experience, finally!! And everyone else felt good....like family. It's great that Tyler Perry has consistently been able to make audiences feel that way, and sell out shows regardless of where it is...or how far they have to travel to see him.
Definitely worth the trip!