Big Mama! The Willie Mae Thornton Story Conceived and written by Audrei-Kairen Directed by John Cooper Starring JACKIE RICHARDSON April 24 – May 11, 2013

National Arts Centre English TheatrePresents

A Belfry Theatre Production
Big Mama!
The Willie Mae Thornton Story
Conceived and written by Audrei-Kairen

Directed by John Cooper


April 24 – May 11, 2013
NAC Theatre



Ottawa, Ontario - Before Elvis sang “Hound Dog” and Janis Joplin belted out “Ball n’ Chain”, Willie Mae (Big Mama) Thornton had already been there and done that. Her powerful voice, sexy songs, and larger-than-life stage presence made her a blues legend.
In this musical, written for and starring Jackie Richardson – “Canada’s first lady of jazz” – you’ll be part of the scene at a ‘70s club in L.A. on Christmas Eve, where Big Mama tells her story and sings the blues – which she once described as “nothing but life, good food, good times, and good sex.”

Backed by a three-piece band, Jackie Richardson finds a way to not only deliver a dazzling musical performance, but tell a dramatic story, as she shares vignettes and anecdotes from Big Mama’s legendary life.

Willie Mae Thornton (1926 – 1984), renowned as the godmother of rock n’ roll, was not only a powerful singer/songwriter, but a masterful entertainer whose live performances on the rhythm and blues and rock circuits captivated audiences. Her influence was so far reaching that artists such as Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin were inspired by her genius, borrowing elements of her vocal sound and delivery as they developed their own creative voices. In fact, Thornton’s “Hound Dog” was so popular, it spawned ten covers before Elvis recorded it in 1956.

After a lifetime of performing, Thornton was inducted into The Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1984.

“Full of big blues sound and both heartbreaking and heart-warming moments, Big Mama! Is an emotional and delectable musical story about a black woman working in a man's world.” Monday Magazine

"Richardson captures the essence of Willie Mae Thornton, her deceptive sensuousness, her mix of machismo and sensitivity.” Calgary Sun

Starring Jackie Richardson as Willie Mae (Big Mama) Thornton.
Joining her on stage are Kevin Belzner, Drums; Ron Casat, Keyboards; Tim Williams, Guitar.

The creative team includes: Director John Cooper; Music Director Tim Williams; Set Designer Carole Klemm; Lighting Designer Martin Conboy; Costume Designer Karen Levis; Stage Manager Sandra McEwing and Assistant Stage Manager Samira Rose.

Big Mama! The Willie Mae Thornton Story
April 24 – May 11

Wednesday, April 24 and Thursday, April 25

Friday, April 26

BIG MAMA! Salon Saturday:       
Saturday, April 27 at 12:45 p.m. in the NAC Fountain Room.
NAC English Theatre Artistic Director Jillian Keiley invites English Theatre patrons to join her with Big Mama! Director John Cooper and CKCU’s Black and Blues host John Tackaberry, as they discuss the creation of the play and the history and influence of the Blues. Free to the public.

Wednesdays, May 1 and 8, and Thursdays, May 2 and 9.
Stay in your seats for a post-show question-and-answer session with artists from Big Mama!.

Performance Schedule:  
Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.
(no performances on Sundays or Mondays.)


From $30 to $75

Tickets are available:

  • Online on the NAC’s website:
  • In person at the NAC Box Office
  • At all Ticketmaster outlets*
  • By telephone 1-888-991-2787
    *A service charge applies on all purchases made through Ticketmaster.

Groups of 10 or more contact or visit

Find out more about the NAC English Theatre on Facebook and YouTube. To discover some fascinating facts about Big Mama! visit

Embassy Hotel & Suites is proud to be the Official Hotel Partner for the National Arts Centre English Theatre.

Ottawa Citizen is proud to be Media Partner for the Theatre 5 Series.


For information, please call:
Sean Fitzpatrick, Communications Officer, National Arts Centre English Theatre
613-947-7000 ext. 389; e-mail:
or visit the NAC website at

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