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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Vicki Lawrence resurrects her most famous character onstage

BY JULIE NJAIM
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mama Harper. Mama Harper.
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Vicki Lawrence finds freedom when she becomes the opinionated, ornery, outspoken Mama Harper.

“Anything that would be politically incorrect that I can’t comment on, she can,” Lawrence said in a phone interview from her Long Beach, Calif., home.

Every tidbit of news is fair game and often a lot of fun — “Charlie Sheen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, automatic toilets that flush three times before you get your pants back up.”

Mama’s words of wisdom will be flying at 7 p.m. Sunday during Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show as Lawrence opens the Valentine Theatre’s 2011-2012 season.

Lawrence begins her 90-minute show sharing stories about her life, reminiscent of the way her friend Carol Burnett opened The Carol Burnett Show for 11 years, which included Lawrence as a key player.

“I know that I need to be me before I turn into Mama,” Lawrence said. “Sometimes I feel like I could disappear off the planet as long as Mama’s around. I have a love-hate relationship with her. I get a little jealous of her because people love her so much — sort of ‘wait, wait, what about me?’ ”

The audience will get to know Lawrence as she tells how she met Burnett and was plucked from anonymity during her senior year of high school, how she met her husband, Al Schultz. She will talk about life as a comedian, her family — she has two grown children — and much more.

Lawrence is most readily recognized for her tenure on Burnett that earned her an Emmy and her most popular character, cantankerous Thelma Harper, aka Mama. Created more than 40 years ago, Mama’s appeal is timeless. America just can’t get enough of her quick-witted southern tongue.

“I think the reason everybody loves Mama so much is everyone has a ‘Mama’ in their family. We all have them sitting at the Thanksgiving table. You sneak off to the bathroom with another relative and say ‘Can you believe she said that?’ You laugh, and you agree she’s right — she shoots from the hip.”

After The Carol Burnett Show ended in 1978, Lawrence returned to television in 1983 to star in the sitcom Mama’s Family for six seasons. Lawrence also hosted the game show Win, Lose, or Draw for two years, and she was nominated for a daytime Emmy for her talk show Vicki! that aired 1992 to 1994. She made repeat performances on Hannah Montana as Miley Cyrus’ grandmother, and she appeared with longtime friend and former Burnett cast member comedian Tim Conway in Yes, Dear.

Lawrence also is a two-time author: Vicki!: The True Life Adventures of Miss Fireball and Mama For President, and she earned a gold record for the 1973 hit “The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia.”

On stage, she’s appeared in numerous productions including Send Me No Flowers, No, No, Nanette, My Fat Friend, Chapter Two, Twigs, Hello Dolly, Special Occasions, I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road, Annie Get Your Gun, and Live from the Grand Ole Opry, and Nunsense 3: The Jamboree that aired on TNN. Recently she appeared in The Vagina Monologues.

Off stage, Lawrence is a strong woman’s advocate. In 1988 she was recognized for her efforts and honored as Person of the Year by the Coalition of Labor Union Women. She travels the country speaking about her life, career, women’s health, and being a woman in a man’s world. She has worked to raise awareness and funds for The Humane Society and the American Heart Association.

Vicki Lawrence. Vicki Lawrence.
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In 2001, on the heels of 9/11, Lawrence joined alumni and performed in Carol Burnett the Showstopper Special that entertained more than 50 million viewers. Lawrence realized the old gal still has what it takes to tickle funny bones and decided to bring Mama back to life. She gathered in her living room with a small group and created her “two-woman show” directed by her son Garrett. She and Mama have been touring the country since 2002 .

“This country wants to laugh. We want to and we need to. I’m happy to oblige,” Lawrence said.

“Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show” opens the Valentine Theatre’s 13th season at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Valentine Theatre, 400 N. Superior St. Ticket prices range from $39 to $59. Information: 419-242-2787 or valentinetheatre.com.

Contact Julie Njaim at jnjaim@theblade.com.



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