Matt Buckley of Gettysburg believes the way to his wife Lisa’s heart is through laughter. That’s why he surprised her with tickets to Thursday’s showing of Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Farewell Play, which runs through Sunday at the Met, for her 53rd birthday.
Lisa can’t get enough of Madea, a gun-toting, marijuana-smoking, slick-mouthed, 70-something matriarch who’s been the centerpiece of Perry’s plays and movies for more than a decade. Now, fans have to say goodbye to one of the most recognizable characters in black Hollywood.
Before the show, Classix 103.9 FM radio personality Lady B warmed up the crowd with a promise of a night of gut-wrenching laughter, which is exactly what they got. The cast flaunted their vocal power right from the start. Tamela Mann’s “God Provides” was sensational, not only because Mann is one of the best voices in gospel, but also because of her authenticity. She can easily sing herself into a praise break, and she nearly did with her first solo of the night.
“I love the entire cast, but Tamela is always going to give you a song,” said Sheila McPherson, 63, of West Oak Lane. She attended the show with friend of more than 50 years Stephanie Jones, who literally fell out of her chair with laughter. They said they’ve been to every Madea play that has stopped in Philly since the early 2000s, when Perry emerged on the theater scene.
Each musical number was spine-tingling, but the plot was familiar, particularly if you’ve followed Madea through the years. A family gathers for an occasion (graduation, funeral, family reunion), secrets are divulged, chaos erupts, and Madea saves everyone. Luckily for Perry, this is a formula that works for his fans. They don’t seem to mind recycled jokes (“This is your grandaddy”), the repetitive and deliberate mispronunciation of words (“Ubber” for “Uber”), or the corny antics.
That might be because Perry’s audience can see themselves in the characters. Perry is expert at capturing the essence of the black family. And with Madea, there’s consistently a kernel of wisdom in her ridiculousness and that of her cadre of Cora (Tamela Mann), Brown (David Mann), and Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis). The storyline of Perry’s farewell show wasn’t as compelling as some of his other plays, such as Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Family Reunion, but the acting and singing maintained the legacy of the Madea plays. Along with Mann, Alexis Hollins (Darlene) proved a vocal powerhouse. Her cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” was excellent.
Perry’s stage plays aren’t the most thematically nuanced or insightful, but people love them because of the nostalgia they evoke and the spontaneity of his work. There were several moments in the show when Madea guided the actors off script into an impromptu joke, often breaking the fourth wall.
Charlice Mobly, 39, of Baltimore, brought her mother, Rebecca, to the show because, like Lisa, they adore Madea.
“I like that it’s a spiritual play and that it’s hilarious,” Rebecca said, peering over the rims of her glasses. “We’re going to miss Madea.”