I can admit that I haven’t always been the most open-minded when it comes to Tyler Perry’s work. I had my feelings, which I wasn’t afraid to share, about Acrimony, Why Did I Get Married, Too? and other films, and I haven’t given his TV shows the time of day like that based on my preconceived notions. However, I do believe that if you can call someone out on things you don’t like, you should be just as willing to open up your mouth when they do something that you do like.
I was invited this past week to check out Perry’s Madea’s Farewell Play show at Radio City Music Hall. The tour has been going on since January and will wrap up at the end of this month. As the title gives away, it will be Madea’s final act, as Perry announced last year that he was doing away with the popular character. I assumed there would be a lot of fanfare surrounding it, but I was overwhelmed by the number of people waiting in line and swarming inside of the venue on Thursday night. People were dressed up, walking with family, friends and others who made up big crowds as they anticipated Madea’s last hurrah. I saw Robin Roberts, comedian Michael Che, CNN personality Ana Navarro and other big names in the audience and also backstage after the play ended. (Even Beyoncé and Jay-Z couldn’t miss out on the show in January.)
Looking back at that night and the overall show, I can now better understand the hoopla. I had forgotten that Tyler Perry plays (this being his 21st) are a full experience. They are Perry going back to his roots, doing what he does best — connecting with his fans. They are musicals. They are comedies. They are improv. They are church. They are a little bit of everything at once to keep you entertained; laughing one minute, singing the next, and also making you think and maybe even cry. I, for one, was in tears as Tamela Mann sang “Take Me to the King” at the close of the play. She returned, as did husband David as Brown and Cassi Davis as Bam, all hilarious and still more than capable of showing off their pipes. I got everything I didn’t know I wanted or needed out of my two hours in the theater.
I was briefly taken back to my teen years when I first learned about Perry’s work at the house of one my schoolmates, way before the movies, only when the plays were making the rounds. I was immediately intrigued by the Madea character in her oversized floral dresses, curly gray wig and purse that always held a gun (and perhaps, some weed). Despite her theatrics, mayhem and jokes, she also offered sound advice, which I was reminded of on Thursday. She encourages you to not love anyone else more than you truly love yourself; to know how to forgive and move forward; to leave the past (and people of it) in the past. (Perhaps the quote from Mabel Simmons that sticks with me most from last week’s show was “There’s a reason the rear view mirror is small.”) Granted, you’ve heard all of these sayings before, but the way she puts it definitely drives the point home.
Plus, you have to give the man credit for the opportunities he offers Black actors, singers, musicians and more. Claudette Ortiz, formerly of City High fame, sang for the show (she previously appeared in Madea on the Run). Every show has introduced (and reintroduced) fans to some truly talented singers and artists. Even Instagram personality @Blameitonkway was given a shot to remind people how funny he is, this time, on stage.
Truth be told, not too long ago I was asking myself what it was about Perry’s work that still draws people in. I had my criticisms about the plots, the acting at times, hell, the mic placement — pretty much everything. However, seeing Madea’s Farewell Play reminded me of what it is people appreciate about Perry and his work, what I too appreciated growing up. When you stop trying to over-critique it and look for the flaws, you find that his plays provide a truly unique and refreshing experience, from the positive messages to the crowd sing-a-longs and the drama that is the I-didn’t-see-that-coming storyline. It’s what brought so many out, people of all backgrounds, tax brackets and ages (a woman in her 80s was given a shout-out in the front row). It’s what left my husband, a notoriously picky person when it comes to what he enjoys, cackling. And it’s what what left me beaming long after the show ended.
All of this is not to say that from that day forward, I became Perry’s number one fan. I think my past criticisms were valid, tbh. However, it is to say that I wanted to give props to a creator, and a character (Ma-to-the-damn-dea), who both have delighted so many people in ways that for a long time, I couldn’t understand. Now, I get it.