In 1992, New Orleans native Tyler Perry wrote a series of letters to himself in an effort to find a catharsis for his own childhood pain. Those same letters were the foundation of Tyler’s first hit musical, I Know I’ve Been Changed, a rousing stage play about adult survivors of child abuse. He saved $12,000 and moved to Atlanta with a script and a dream. He quickly learned that producing and promoting a play — an African-American play no less — was not easy.
At age 28, Tyler Perry was broke and homeless. But he had a vision he pursued relentlessly for six years. When financial reality finally set in, Perry reluctantly decided to produce one last show. His faith and tenacity paid off. It was that one fateful decision that would change his life forever.
In the summer of 1998, Tyler Perry’s I Know I’ve Been Changed opened at the House of Blues in Atlanta and sold out eight times over. Two weeks later, the play would move to Atlanta’s prestigious Fox Theater and sell out 9,000 more seats for just two shows. I Know I’ve Been Changed went on to gross several million dollars in revenue, becoming a sold-out hit in every major city during its 1998-1999 tour. This play literally changed the paradigm of thinking about black productions and suddenly the “chitlin’ circuit” became urban theater.
The play I Can Do Bad All By Myself introduced the character Madea Simmons, a 68-year-old grandmother and the brainchild of Perry’s comedic genius, and opened in the year 2000 to rave reviews and sold-out houses in New York, Chicago, D.C., Memphis, New Orleans and Atlanta. In the spring of 2001, Tyler earned the honor of being nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actor (non-resident) for his role as Madea, a first for any urban theater actor.
Perry, currently on national tour as Madea in his latest hit play Madea Goes to Jail, is scheduled to take the stage in Indianapolis at the Murat Theater March 2-5. In this incarnation, the pistol-totin’, straight talkin’ Madea finally gets caught and ends up in jail. Loving nephew Sunny (Christian Keyes), wife Vanessa (Chantell Christopher) and baby live with Madea. Sunny works at the local prison and has a part-time job to support his family while his wife attends school for her master’s degree. The play focuses on family, love and Madea’s view of life and belief that “there’s some good in all bad.” The play is filled with laughter and song, along with unexpected twists in the plot. Oprah Winfrey, one of the many celebrities who saw the play, stated on her talk show that “I laughed until my stomach hurt.”
In February 2005, Perry took Madea to the movies in Diary of a Mad Black Woman. The film became a box office hit, gaining the full attention of major production companies. On Feb. 24, Lion’s Gate Entertainment opened a sequel, Madea’s Family Reunion, in movie theaters nationwide. Perry, a God-fearing, single workaholic, is the author and, with Reuben Cannon, the producer of this latest film, which he directed on a profanity-free set.
Adapted from the acclaimed stage production of the same title, the movie is another hilarious installment about Madea’s life. This time, Madea takes on the court-ordered supervision of a rebellious runaway, and deals with the relationship issues concerning her nieces Lisa and Vanessa, while planning her family reunion.
Tickets for Madea Goes to Jail are available through Ticketmaster and Tickco or by calling 800-279-4444. Tickets are $42.50-$52.50.