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Lillias White on the 'Blessing' of Creating the Title Role in Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues

Lillias White on the 'Blessing' of Creating the Title Role in Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues
Lillias White in 'Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues'
Big Maybelle Smith 'deserves recognition,' says Lillias White.

Lillias White deserves to be on Broadway every season, and if all goes well, the Tony-winning star of The Life and Fela! will make her Main Stem return in 2013 in Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues. This new biographical musical begins performances on August 7 at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY, and White is excited to bring the legendary blues singer to life on stage.

“Big Maybelle was a hell of an entertainer, and this show is going to be a really fun time for everyone who comes to see it,” White told during a rehearsal break. The real Big Maybelle, born Mabel Louise Smith, was best known for the 1956 hit single “Candy” and recorded “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” two years before Jerry Lee Lewis made it a hit. “She is someone who deserves recognition,” notes White, “and her story is worth being told.”

Written and directed by Paul Levine, Big Maybelle includes 31 songs, a vocal load White calls “very challenging because we are very different: I have a more high-pitched voice, and hers is a gravelly squall, so I’ve been working with my vocal coach, Susan Eichhorn, to develop a technique to sing these songs without hurting myself.” But the hard work is worth it: “It’s a blessing to be able to create a role,” White says. “It’s something I really enjoy doing—it’s a true gift in the theater.”

As she awaits the fate of Big Maybelle, White is happy to chat about her recent experience starring in an L.A. production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. “I hadn’t done a straight play in a long time, and it was wonderful,” she says. “I know people don’t think of me that way, but they need to get over that—I am an actor!” And how! If you’re summering in the Hamptons, don’t miss Lillias White in Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues, through September 2.

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