If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
"ELLA" OPENS SEASON AT LONG WHARF THEATRE
Legendary singers Ethel Merman and Ella Fitzgerald are given the musical revue treatment by two area theatres this month. New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre opens its season by presenting Tina Fabrique as Fitzgerald in “Ella” and, at Westport’s Music Theatre of Connecticut, Klea Blackhurst pays tribute to Merman in her revue, “Everything the Traffic Will Allow”. Both productions promise plenty of energy and an abundance of great music.
In the works since 2005 first at Hartford TheaterWorks and then in revised form at Hartford Stage, “Ella” is still under the direction of original co-conceiver (with Dyke Garrison) Rob Ruggiero. The refashioned book by Jeffrey Hatcher details a compressed time period of Fitzgerald’s life that ends with a 1966 concert in France. Actually, the book parts of “Ella” seem to follow the inevitable tried and true showbiz clichés that have been around since “A Star is Born” including the troubled childhood and bad marriages with men who are only after her money and balk at becoming “Mr. Fitzgerald”.
Tina Fabrique bears little resemblance to Fitzgerald and vocally, well, there is still only one Ella. But Fabrique is a major performer and rivets the attention almost immediately with renditions of “How High the Moon” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing”. She also puts her unique stamp on such classics as “Blue Skies” and “The Man I Love”. And, rest assured, audiences won’t be deprived of one of Ella’s signature songs (one she, apparently, despised), “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”.
Fabrique is nicely supported by Harold Dixon playing Fitzgerald’s long-time manager, Norman Granz, as well as a pistol-hot combo of musicians including musical director George Caldwell, Rodney Harper (drums), Cliff Kellam (bass) and Ron Haynes (trumpet). Mr. Haynes also gets an opportunity to play Louie Armstrong – quite well it turns out – singing a delightful rendition of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” with Fabrique.
The snazzy scenic design is by Michael Schweikardt with expert lighting by John Lasiter. “Ella” won’t confuse you with the real thing, but it’s a fond trip down memory lane with an able imitator at the helm.
“Ella” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre through October 17th. For further information or ticket information call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.
This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers beginning October 13, 2010