“ELLA:” A MUSICAL JOURNEY PAST THE MOON TO HEAVEN

BONNNIE GOLDBERG

Over her musical career that spanned almost six decades, Ella Fitzgerald became “Lady Ella” and “The First Lady of Song,” she won fourteen Grammy Awards, received a pair of medals from two presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and was acknowledged as a national treasure.  With verve and style, a rich and warm voice, and with perfect diction, Ella interpreted the Great American Songbook, giving her unique sweetness and scat-attitude to the music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Duke Ellington and Rogers and Hart, to name a few.

This sultry jazz vocalist who could belt out ballads, nursery rhymes, country western, pop and bebop will be showcased at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre until Sunday, October 17 in a not-to-be-missed “Ella the Musical.”  Co-conceived by Rob Ruggiero and Dyke Garrison, with book by Jeffrey Hatcher, musical direction by George Caldwell, musical arrangement by Danny Holgate and direction by Rob Ruggiero, “Ella the Musical” features the fabulous Tina Fabrique.

In the over one thousand performances, in 21 of the 23 venues where the show has been staged, Ms. Fabrique has portrayed this special songster and feels “blessed and grateful” for the role.  A kindred spirit to Ella, she “channels” her spirit and feels honored for the privilege.

According to Rob Ruggiero who had researched Ella and felt she was a “good person with a good soul and good heart who was most alive and comfortable when performing her music,” people discouraged him for years about the project  His position as associate director at Hartford TheaterWorks, plus the encouragement of Steve Campo, its artistic director, allowed Ruggiero to bring Ella to that stage in 2005 for the first time.

Now Ruggiero is a proud papa who is getting a lot of pleasure in the success of his “baby,” noting that the show has actually saved lots of theaters that were in fiscal trouble.  For Gordon Edelstein, Long Wharf’s artistic director, “Ella” is a grand season opener, “a musical tribute to one of the 20th century’s greatest pop and jazz singers…portrayed by angel voiced Tina Fabrique.”

In “Ella,” we meet the shy and abused little girl who loved to sing and dance, watch her get a chance to perform at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem at age 16 to launch her career, meet two of the men Chick Webb and Norman Granz (Harold Dixon) who influenced her musical path and all the while be treated to an intimate night club concert of her amazing music.

With George Caldwell on piano, Rodney Harper on drums, Cliff Kellam on bass and Ron Haynes (think Louis Armstrong) on trumpet, songs like “That Old Black Magic,” “Blue Skies,” “How High the Moon,” “Lullaby of Birdland” and “Mr. Paganini” soar to heaven and beyond, many with Ella’s incomparable scat imitation of instruments in the band.

For tickets ($35-65), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or go online at www.longwharf.org.  Performances are Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Wednesday at 2 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

On Saturday, October 9, from 9:30 on, Long Wharf will host its 4th Annual Discovery Day for families to introduce them to theater.  This year entitled “Out of This World,” admission is $5 per family or $2 per person and proceeds will fund the next stage production for young audiences in the spring.

All jazz lovers unite, congregate and triumph as this joy-filled production takes you straight over the moon.


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