It's hard enough trying to fit someone's life into a two hour theatrical movie. It's really hard to fit someone's life into a two hour TV movie, since once you remove the commercials, that only leaves approximately 86 minutes. Director Robert Townsend did a commendable job of hitting enough points in the life of Little Richard that you do come away with some knowledge about "The Architect of Rock and Roll".
Little Richard begins with him and his band at an outdoor concert in Australia. Richard sees a comet and thinks it's a sign from God telling him he should quit rock and roll and go back into the ministry.The rest of Little Richard is told in flashback style beginning with Little Richard as a young boy, moving on to his teenage years, his involvement in vaudeville, and finally becoming a huge rock and roll star. Leon, who also did a great job playing David Ruffin in The Temptations, is once again outstanding in the titular role in this film. Without Leon's excellent portrayal of Richard Penniman, this movie would have been far less than it is.
There are two main points Little Richard seemed to want to get across. One was that Richard enjoyed wearing women's clothes at an early age and on into adulthood. The other point was Little Richard was adept at reading "signs" to guide his personal and private life. Since Richard is listed as an executive producer in the credits, I can only surmise he wanted these two points driven home to viewers of this movie.
The best parts of Little Richard are the song performances, lip synced by Leon to actual Little Richard recordings. I can't quite say the same about Ty Hodges (who portrays young Richard), who appeared to be doing a Stevie Wonder impression during his one song performance. Gregory Gast did a fine job as Pat Boone, however, it was off-putting to me that he looked more like George W. Bush than Boone. Two other musicians of note are portrayed in Little Richard: Tressa Thomas makes a brief appearance as Ruth Brown and Conroe Brooks is great as Sam Cooke performing "Send Me Some Lovin'".
One final note on Little Richard, some misconceptions have arisen on the internet and quoted a fictional sequence in the film as being truthful. In Little Richard, he is shown performing at Simm's Peachtree Theatre in 1957 in Greenville, SC. This sequence has Richard stripping down to his gold lame underwear to show what a wild man he had become at that point in his career. While I can't dispute the fact Richard may or may not have stripped down to gold lame underwear on stage at some point in his career, I can set the record straight that there was NOT any such named theatre located in Greenville, SC.
If you get a chance (the dvd is out of print and quite expensive to buy used, but the movie does show up occasionally on BET), Little Richard is well worth viewing, mainly for the music and for Leon's performance; but please realize the movie is only a quick overview of the life of one of the founders of rock and roll. The film has fictional elements and true elements all mashed together to create an entertaining movie, it is NOT a documentary and as with any biopic should not be viewed as one.
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