My evening at Southern Rep Theatre: Flowers for Halie

SYNOPSIS: New Orleans’ own Troi Bechet brings a legend to life in this new celebration of the Queen of Gospel. From her early days in a shotgun shack in New Orleans to her international success as a singer and civil rights leader, Mahalia Jackson journeyed in faith and courage. An evening of story and song illuminates the struggles and triumphs of this home-grown American icon.

She continues, “The play is set in 1968. That was the year that Martin Luther King was killed. Also the year that Mahalia was divorced for the second time and her health began to fail. It is Chirstmastime. The premise is that a young woman from college comes to interview her and during the time that she’s doing the interview, Mahalia is sharing tidbits abour her life.”

Written and Performed by Troi Beche

New Orleans actress and singer Troi Bechet is starring in a brand new production she wrote, to celebrate the life of Mahalia Jackson.

The play is called called Flowers for Halie, and it premieres this week.

Bechet says the work addresses a pivotal time in the singer’s life.

Troi Bechet plays Mahalia Jackson in her new play, ‘Flowers for Halie,’ at Southern Rep.

Let me start with thanking Joron Cardwell of the Southern Rep for extending not only the invite but for his excellent hospitality and treating me as if I was one of the top journalists in New Orleans. Jaron laid the foundation for what I would experience throughout the night.

I was late, my plus one fell through at the last minute, LYFT’s system was down, and I was in a panic. I knew there was late seating, but go figure the black girl would be that one to interrupt the show with her grand appearance. And wouldn’t you know I did just that? Jaron gave me the VIP backstage entrance, and I  thought “yes My entry would go undecided, but no it didn’t work out like that. As soon as he opened the door, my two reserved seats were right there, and all I had to do was take a few steps and sit my butt down. But no, I missed the whole step and all but collapsed my almost 6-foot thick frame in the chair. Rows of theatergoers focus were on me if I was hurt. I twisted my ankle a bit, but my ego was definitely bruised, and I was worried about interrupting the show, but thankfully the actresses continued despite me.

My grandmother, Momo loved Mahalia Jackson like so many other New Orleanians. She was so proud of her accomplishments and typically sang Mahalia Jackson songs as her solos during church services. My Momo never had the opportunity to attend any of Mrs.Jackson’s performances, and the fact that I was there watching a play about Mahalia Jackson made me feel as if I were fulfilling a wish for my Momo.

New Orleans and church go together like red beans and rice and depending on who’s cooking up the sermon, songs or pot will determine your soul-satisfying experience, you know how good it tastes to your body and soul. And let me tell you, I not only forgot I wasn’t in a church, but I forgot I was watching a play! Flowers for Halie had someone in the kitchen who knew how to cook a good ole Nola Experience!

I found myself rocking and swaying in my chair, my hands and feet clapped and tapped to the rhythm and my soul, oh my soul felt renewed. When she sang me all time favorite, the song that brings comfort in uncertain, painful times; ”Precious Lord take my hand!” I knew it was fate and favor that set up this opportunity for me to attend the play. And this was not the usual play; we were in service; soul service in honor of our Nola Legendary Icon ”Queen of Soul”Mahalia Jackson!

Mahalia Jackson was before my time, but I know her voice and Troi Bechet pulled one on me. Her boom in her voice when she spoke, the way she hummed and held a note paid the perfect tribute to Mahalia Jackson.

The play highlighted a side of Mahalia Jackson not often spoke of, the woman’s side. I never thought of the at women in the church as women, woman like me. We often look at women in the church as nuns or earthly angles and seeing this played out made me want to know more about her life. The way Mahalia interacted with the college student is being lost in today’s world. She welcomed her in not only feeding her body with her delicious fried chicken, but she took care to nurture her heart and soul with kind words reminded me of the kitchen moments with my Momo. We would sit at the kitchen table to talk and eat, and like Mahalia, she had told my younger self to pray and listen to my heart. What played out on that stage needs to happen again in our lifetimes before we lose the generations behind us.

“Flowers for Halie” is described as a church revival, and you know what; it was for me. I remember my Momo preparing for the summer revival for our family church, Mount Roch Baptist Church in Carrollton. I remember people coming into the service looking sad, downtrodden and full of burdens, but once they received the word, they were able to leave REVIVED and full of praise, and that was how I felt last night.

I knew moving back to New Orleans meant I would sacrifice the lifestyle I had in Minnesota, but I didn’t expect it to be this hard. But then again living in New Orleans is hard for most especially those who love the culture. I love what I’m doing, but it doesn’t pay the bills, and I find myself looking for jobs I’m overqualified for so that I can have time to write and be a part of New Orleans. Can you see me being a Host at one of the restaurants in the French Quarters? I’m trying to see it because I can write about the comings and goings of the Quarters so it wouldn’t feel like I’m giving up my passion. I can quickly get a job at any hospital and clinic, make some nice money, but it would result in me putting down my pen.

I never understood what it meant to be a Nola starving artist until now, but I appreciate their love for their craft more than ever. On top of that, I been dealing with depression from my loss of my family members and also moving back home meant I would be without the majority of my family. If I wouldn’t have moved in the Saint Roch neighborhood where the days of yesterday ”Neighbors are all family” still exist I do not know how I would have made it this far without my family. Only in New Orleans, right? The same New Orleans that lived in Mahalia Jackson’s day.

You see the invite to ”Flowers for Halie” was more than me showing up as a Nola Blogger/Influencer to write a blog review in exchange for tickets, etc. Attending this event validated why I stay and my love for New Orleans. Attending proved to me that the people of New Orleans love and support without seeing color or status. Being in the midst of my people proved to me that this city of ours heals our broken hearts with music, food and hospitality.

Mahalia Jackson’s life is one we all can relate to here in New Orleans , especially those from small beginnings. All that she endured and overcame in a time of segregation, The Depression and sexism and she never gave up or lost her faith in God. Isn’t it amazing how our ancestors survived the worst with only having the belief in God. Some have prayers that didn’t come to pass in their lifetime, but their heirs are living off their harvest..

The soul of New Orleans set it up for me to be in attendance on this particular night, opening night with a full house. It was set up for me to witness not only the life of Mahalia’s dreams and goals come to pass, but that of another New Orleans woman as well.

On another level I witnessed the works of Troi’s thoughts and words come to life in the form of a gospel play tribute to Mahalia Jackson! Troi Bechet performance took me to church, rocked my soul and initiated healing. When I was introduced to Troi Bechet, I could not believe my eyes. She’s a beautiful woman with a radiant personality.

The angel sounding choir, OMG these ladies had me wondering how sounds like could amplify from where they stood. I literally looked around to see if their mouths were moving, I looked for the placement of mics and speakers. They were just that perfect.

In one scene Mahalia was being introduced by one of the ladies as if she was on a CBS Show and I couldn’t believe this booming voice came from this little lady. She sound like a professional headlining announcer who made a million dollars just for speaking one line!

And the organ player, she played right on heartstrings! I felt as though the sound she made picked up lost notes of my broken heart and mended them together! She sealed the deal and officially took me to feel what I imagine those who jumped up out their seats and took to the church aisle to praise and shout used to feel when I was a little girl. I’m not sure how I contained myself last night; it was surreal.

I’m not one for writing reviews like you see in the newspaper and so on, but I can tell you how something made me feel and “Flowers for Halie” was a blessing to my soul! I needed to experience it for the reasons I stated and more. The actresses brought life to the characters to the point I got lost in their roles.

Flowers for Halie showcases New Orleans Black Woman Magic through the generations. On one stage I witnessed our creativity, the resiliency of our people, our ability to survive under dire circumstances, our willingness to love even while broken and our firm faith in God. I had no option but to leave Southern Rep feeling revived, hopeful and inspired by the lives of Bechet, Mahalia and the other women!

This is a must see Nola Chic event and I think it would be great if children could attend. Not only was it a phenomenal musical performance, that felt like a breath of fresh Nola air, but it was full of history facts, women’s issues and New Orleans culture.

The play ended in her death and the young lady visiting Mahalis grave site with flowers to tell her that she finally made it to New Orleans, found out what it felt like to pop a handkerchief at a Secondline and that she took her advice.

The audience poured out into the lobby of what once was a church turned Southern Rep Theatre to enjoy appetizers and champagne. We were treated to an impromptu performance by who fascinated us with her voluptuous body and beat to the gawds face!

What more can I say, I was treated to the red carpet experience, went to church, my soul was revived, gifted with the soul sounds of my Nola Sistas, sipped, ate, mingled and entertained all in one evening! The Southern Rep Staff were the nicest of people, very engaging and helpful.

It doesn’t get any better than that, and it only can happen in Nola!

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