DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Winner and Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues Star Lillias White
24 Aug 2012
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Lillias White, a Tony winner for her knockout performance in late composer Cy Coleman's The Life, is perhaps the most soulful Broadway singer of her generation, so it seems more than appropriate that the gifted artist should be cast as the late R&B singer Big Maybelle in the current Bay Street Theatre production of Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues, now playing the Sag Harbor venue through Sept. 2.
The New York City-aimed musical, which is presented by Bay Street in association with Martin Richards and The Gilead Company, features a book and direction by Paul Levine, who told me earlier this week how he came to cast singing actress White as the Tennessee native, who died in 1972 at the age of 47. "Dennis Johnson, a friend of mine at Showtime, read and loved the piece and asked who I had in mind to play the lead," Levine explained. "He suggested Lillias, who happened to be playing up in Ventura in a new Cy Coleman revue, so I drove up from L.A. Lil received two standing ovations — during the show — we met backstage and I immediately offered her the role. Three months later we did a workshop, and here we are in Sag Harbor, with Marty Richards producing as we move forward."
White, who brings 29 of Big Maybelle's songs to life in the production, said last week by phone that she "didn't know anything about [Maybelle's] life, but I was familiar with some of her music." Among White's favorites of the tunes featured in Soul of the Blues are "Candy," which was Maybelle's "biggest hit ... I love that song… I like the song called 'One Monkey Don't Stop No Show,' that's a lot of fun. And, there's another song that we do with the band, 'That's A Pretty Good Love.'" Other titles include "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Say It Isn't So," "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," "Mean To Me," "What A Difference A Day Makes," "I've Got A Feeling I'm Falling" and more.
Holed up in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, two former lovers unpack the deep secrets and dark desires of their tangled relationship, passionately tearing each other apart. Led by director Daniel Aukin (Back Back Back at MTC, 4,000 Miles), Tony winner Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur at MTC, Born Yesterday) and Sam Rockwell (A Behanding in Spokane, The Way Way Back) bring an explosive intensity to Sam Shepard’s (Buried Child, True West) landmark myth of the new Wild West.