Ella: The Musical A Must See
By Bob and Karen Isaacs
Is it the real Ella Fitzgerald or Tina Fabrique?
That’s the question you’re going to have to answer as you experience the delightful voice and talent of Tina Fabrique in the production of Ella: The Musical at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater.
This production, a revision of an earlier one at Hartford TheatreWorks by Rob Ruggiero and Dyke Garrison and directed by Ruggiero features two dozen songs either entirely or in part with a terrific four-piece backup and a slice of biography that gives a glimpse of the life of Ella Fitzgerald from her youth to 1966. The work is set on the stage of a concert hall in Nice, France in 1966.
This format gives Fabrique the scope to present a wide variety of Fitzgerald’s music and style. It also gives her a chance to present a portion of Fitzgerald's life along with her songs. In it we learn and see her debut on the stage of the Apollo Theater in New York, her joining the Chick Webb Orchestra, her assuming direction of that orchestra after Webb dies and finally her fabulous solo career. We also learn of her relationship with her half sister Frances and her "adoption" of Frances’ son.
Embelishing these biographical details are the wonderful interpretations by Fabrique of Fitzgerald's music and style that make you briefly forget that you are not seeing the real Ella and the irony of the commercial she did for a tape company that that posed the question of whether it was the real Ella Fitzgerald or Memorex.
During the course of the show Fabrique as Ella interacts with her producer Norman Granz, neatly play by Harold Dixon, who urges her on and even encourages her to do more "skat" singing that is one of her defining styles. She also interacts with members of the band who besides backing her up on some numbers also participate in some of them. Especially memorable is the work of trumpeter Ron Haynes who does an imitation of Louis Armstrong on two numbers, "Cheek to Cheek" and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off." Other members of the quartet are George Caldwell, piano; Rodney Harper, drums; and Cliff Kellam, bass.
For the first act Fabrique wears a simple black dress presumably emphasizing the fact that she has just returned from the funeral of her half-sister. This costuming fact is not lost on the audience who, when Fabrique returns for the second act and is now wearing a light blue gown, applauds her entrance.
Fabrique pays homage to Fitzgerald's musical connections and gives the audience a full portion of Fitzgerald's music. And what’s terrific about it all is the sense that Ella is singing these songs again.
You should make it your business to get to see Ella: The Musical at the Long Wharf Theater early because you'll want to go back again.
Ella: The Musical isat the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven through Oct. 11. For tickets and information call the box office at 203-787-4282.
This review appeared in Shore Publications.