DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Winner and Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues Star Lillias White

By Andrew Gans
24 Aug 2012

Lillias White in Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues.
Photo by Jerry Lamonica

White said that although Maybelle, who played mostly the so-called Chitlin' Circuit of African-American venues — "that's really mostly what was available for her to do" — she did get to solo at Carnegie Hall, "but it wasn't a successful concert at Carnegie because she was drugged out, so she didn't do so well there."

Speaking about director-creator Levine, White said, "He has a big passion for her. I think the show kind of came to him unexpectedly, so it's been fun. It's been fun because he knows that I'm a performing artist, so he's kind of let me find things on my own and add that to what's going on." Director-writer Levine said he now couldn't "imagine anyone else playing Maybelle Smith. Lil fully inhabits the role, heart and soul, and gives 200 percent at every performance. It's quite extraordinary really, and if you love theatre, or music, it's a performance not to be missed."

Levine said he is still working on the book of the musical "prior to moving the show to other cities and eventually to New York. That's what opening a show out of town is all about, and no one knows more about that than Marty Richards. It's a wonderful process and we're very lucky to have Marty producing. I'm learning so much from a great master of the American theatre."

And, is actress White, whose Main Stem credits also include Dreamgirls, Barnum, Cats, Once on This Island, How to Succeed…, hoping the show will land on Broadway or Off?

"Oh, I'd love for it to be Broadway, definitely," she answered.

Before Broadway, however, White is focusing on another big project: "I have twin grandchildren coming soon...[and I need to] make sure that they get here and they're safe and that mom is good and dad is good and all that." The new arrivals, White said, will be her fifth and sixth grandchildren.

[Bay Street Theatre is in Sag Harbor, NY. Tickets can be purchased by calling (631) 725-9500 or by visiting BayStreet.]

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.