A Celebration of Life—‘Madea’s Big Happy Family’

In case you haven’t heard, Mabel Simmons (a.k.a. Madea) is coming to the Petersen Events Center Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. and she’s bringing quite a few relatives and even some friends.

“Madea’s Big Happy Family”—Tyler Perry’s 12th stage play—arrives in Pittsburgh, on the second leg of a nationwide road tour. After a five-year hiatus, the Hollywood A-list star will don wig and fat-suit to portray his original, masterful creation—Madea.


Perry’s signature character always delivers her own brand of wisdom in a bold and brash, hilarious fashion. In his No. 1 New York Times Bestseller: “Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings—Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries On Life and Love,” he describes the matriarch whose name is commonly translated in the south as “mother dear:”

“She’s not politically correct. She doesn’t care about anything but what is honest and true. And she is always saying the most unexpected things.”

Although she packs a pistol and likes her cigarettes, the family matriarch never fails to espouse the fear of God and the love of family. Her unique message not only changes the lives of the characters on stage, but also has a positive effect on Perry’s worldwide fan base—as evidenced, on any given day, by more than a million responses on his message board at: www.tylerperry.com.

This latest stage play was conceived after the young, talented writer-producer/director/actor experienced what seemed to be one of the lowest points in his life. On Dec. 8, 2009, his beloved mother, Willie Maxine Perry, passed away—leaving her son saddled with unshakable grief that permeated every aspect of his life.

“After the passing of my mother, my entire world seemed to fade to black and white. I didn’t know what to do.” So, he prayed and sought God’s guidance.

Divine inspiration led him to take pen in hand and, he remembers “[doing] what has always gotten me through rough times in my life…and before I knew it, I had written a story about family grief and healing.”

The tale begins with Shirley’s (Chandra Currelley-Young) trip to the doctor’s office. Accompanied by her busybody relative, Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), Shirley receives a discouraging report. As a result, the spiritual and insightful mother struggles to unite her five adult children by instructing them to rely on the Word of God and draw close as a family, as she sees her time (of departure) fast approaching.

Dealing with three daughters and two sons is no easy matter. Joyce (Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley) has placed her own personal life on hold, as she sacrifices for the family. Tammy (Chrissy Collins) has a marriage that is full of trouble, along with two sons in college. Kimberly (Tamar Davis) is self-centered and spoiled, caring little about her husband and family. Byron (Jeffrey Lewis) runs the streets and Donnie (Zuri Craig) has his own unique problems.

Then enters Madea (Tyler Perry)—whose zany, “tell-it-like-it-is” humor helps everyone deal with the harsh realities faced, including financial problems, drugs, and family skeletons. Along the way, Uncle Monroe (Palmer Williams Jr.) spices things up with his lively, one-of-a-kind antics. Other family members and friends grace the stage, including: Rose (Chontelle Moore), Dr. Wallace (Quan Hodges), Harold Jones (Danny Clay), Karen (Brandi Milton), and Jayson (Rico Ball).

Amazing vocal performances abound with most of the actors themselves note-worthy gospel singers in their own right. A nine-piece orchestra adds to the theatrical experience—with original music written by Perry himself, as well as fellow composer, Elvin Ross. Mark E. Swinton (NAACP Theatre Award winner for Best Director, and Best Playwright) serves as the production’s assistant director.

MBHF has received rave reviews from Los Angeles to Chicago, from New York to Atlanta. An anonymous Atlanta playgoer concluded: “Never have I laughed so hard and then been moved to tears during a live stage play. This was incredible…the storyline, the acting, and the music. Fantastic!”

If anyone seems to have the Midas touch, Perry does—with project after project turning to gold. In fact, some believe that an Oscar nomination looms in the wings for his soon to be released (November) movie based upon the 1975 play by Ntozake Shange: “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow was Enuf.”

Certainly, much has happened in Perry’s life during the short period of time that has passed since last December, when Willie Maxine Perry departed this world. And, for that matter, since his childhood—growing up in the 1970s—many challenges have been met with success in the life of the one who was born, Emmitt Perry Jr.—a poor, African-American child from New Orleans whose early years were marred with abuse. (He would later change his name to “Tyler,” to distinguish himself from his abusive father.)

His phenomenal rags-to- riches story is well-known.

Taking the advice offered by Oprah Winfrey during one of her TV shows, he began to write about his painful childhood experiences—a process that eventually resulted in feelings of cathartic forgiveness and healing. From these writings, Perry received inspiration for his first musical, “I Know I’ve Been Changed.”

In 1992, after spending his life’s savings on an unsuccessful attempt to present the play, Perry once again found himself living in abject poverty. Nonetheless, it was during this same period that his faith in God and determination to succeed grew by leaps and bounds. Six years later, in 1998, “I Know I’ve Been Changed” opened to large crowds, at a local theater, The House of Blues,and shortly thereafter moved to Atlanta’s well-known Fox Theater.

From that place in time, offers began rolling in. Perry said, “After the show, every person who had told me no, every promoter who had turned me down, came to me with an offer.”

Years later, what some might call an overnight success story began to unfold. Perry collaborated with Bishop T.D. Jakes on the notable play: “Woman Thou Art Loosed” (1999). Soon after, Perry would introduce the character Madea in “I Can Do Bad All by Myself” (2000), followed by more stage plays: “Madea’s Family Reunion” (2002); “Madea’s Class Reunion” (2003); and “Madea Goes to Jail” (2005).

Perry’s first feature film, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” (2005), opened No.1 at the box office, with a procession of popular movies to come, including “Madea’s Family Reunion,” “Daddy’s Little Girls,” “Why Did I Get Married?,” “Meet The Browns,” “The Family that Preys,” “Madea Goes To Jail,” “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” and “Why Did I Get Married Too?”

Historically, the year 2007 marked his entry into the television market with his highly rated TBS comedy series: “House of Payne,” followed by the successful “Meet the Browns.” In 2008, the Tyler Perry Studios opened in Atlanta, giving Perry the distinction of becoming the first African-American to own a major film and television studio.

Yet despite overseeing a multi-million dollar empire,
Perry has never forgotten the former years of despair that seemed to have prepared him for what he views as his mission to his fans. His medium is his pen, and the MBHF message that he’s bringing to Pittsburgh and other U.S. cities is this: “Life is so short and so precious…celebrate each day.”

(Tickets for this special event may be purchased at Ticketmaster Outlets. To charge by phone: 1-800-745-3000 or www.ticket­master.com.)

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