Walking into the Black Ensemble Theater to a recording of Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” set the stage before I had a chance to sit down. The welcoming songs along with the music in the play, the acting, setting, and costuming held the simple script together. The storyline was meek, but much better and more informative than the small talk you often get from music stars who feel the need to talk to their audience between the songs ticket payers came to hear.
The play centered around blues legends Big Mama Thornton, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Stevie Ray Vaughan waiting to assist Riley (B.B.) King, at the pearly gates of heaven. To help him with his transition, they each tell a bit about their lives, what experiences gave them the empathy to sing the blues, and how they had to forgive themselves. Again, the biographical sketches smelled good, but the performances they gave between the bio-snippets were delicious!
As much as I love B.B. King in life, Willa Mae (Big Mama) Thorton (Miciah Lathan) was my favorite in Blue Heaven. She said that people calling her a bodagger or Elvis Pressley having the opportunity to gain more fame and money than she when recording “Hound Dog” were not her most tragic experiences.