Shirley has important news for her family, but she has five grown children with different lifestyles and finds it difficult to get them and the kids all together. So in steps Madea, the Matriarch General, to put the family's life in perspective with a hilarious twist on financial difficulties, drugs and, most important, family secrets. The next generation has a lot to learn. In her own way, Madea expresses how deliverance won’t change you to be someone else, but will allow you to be who you really are. Ain’t nothing like family!
Tyler Perry, juggling top-rated sitcoms and films that bear his name above the title (not to mention projects such as Precious to which he lends his considerable clout to get made), is the newest hardest-working man in show business. Somehow in 2010 he found time to write, direct, and star in this heartfelt theatrical project--his first in five years--inspired by his late mother and featuring his signature character Madea. He did 125 shows in 126 days. Exhaustion forced him to cancel the remainder of the tour, but the cameras were rolling for this enthusiastically received rafter-rattling performance. Big Happy Family delivers everything to be expected from a Perry play: bruising family dysfunction, physical comedy, soul-stirring gospel uplift, and Oprah-style empowerment. Chandra Currelley-Young stars as Shirley, who learns she is dying of cancer. She tries to tell her family, but they are too wrapped up in their own melodramas to pay her any mind. There's the son who turns to selling drugs to keep his gold-digging girlfriend, the daughter who is unlucky in love, and another daughter too involved in her career. Weighing in on the sidelines is Madea, who, about 90 minutes in, stops the show to go "off-script" to weigh in on marriage, manhood, and even the housing crisis. Big Happy Family is broadly written and acted, the character types way beyond stereo. But Perry's positive populist messages about family, self-respect, and keeping the faith hit home with his appreciative audience. Perry has joked in interviews about wanting to kill off Madea, but like Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner before him, he seems to have made peace with the character that put him on the map. During the emotional curtain call, he tells the crowd that his mother told him, "Don't stop doing Madea… I'll keep doing it as long as you want to keep seeing it." That could be awhile. --Donald Liebenson