Tina Fabrique is a dynamic performer — and how! She proves it again and again in the 2-plus hour show, “Ella,” a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, now being presented at Capital Repertory Theatre.
From the opening rhythms of “How High the Moon” to the closing notes of “Oh, Lady Be Good,” Fabrique energizes the audience with her powerful voice and authenticity of style. She is a wonder, completely committed to the role.
Is she an Ella sound-alike? No. But don’t let that stop you. Nobody could be Ella. But Fabrique’s phrasing is superb. It is obvious she has listened to quite a few Fitzgerald recordings.
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Through Aug. 12
HOW MUCH: $75-$20
MORE INFO: 445-7469, www.capitalrep.org
The show begins and ends as the star prepares to give a concert in Nice, France, in 1966, one week after her sister Frances has died. Ella is encouraged to “patter” during the show, something she doesn’t like to do. She practices her patter by telling the sad and elevating story of her difficult, often charmed, life. You may find facts here that you didn’t know about the beloved superstar. I did. In truth, you may find too many “facts.”
Too much information
Fitzgerald was sexually abused by her stepfather, according to the text, initially rejected by the Apollo Theater, a mother to her sister’s seventh child and twice a wife. The script is weak, bringing out a litany of events in the singer’s life with little creativity or artfulness. It is a disappointment considering it comes from the pen of Jeffrey Hatcher, a playwright whose work I generally respect.
Fitzgerald’s constant battles with her weight and her insecurities about her looks are unnecessary and even superfluous elements to our enjoyment of her elegant voice. One line in the play stands out. Spoken by Norman Granz (Harold Dixon), Ella’s longtime manager, the line is “Your audiences come to hear you.”
That’s what Ella Fitzgerald is all about.
The book makes an attempt to make the facts of her life relevant to her songs. And that’s something in its favor. “I’ll Never be the Same” is placed at the time of the death of her first mentor and manager, Chuck Webb. It is a moving tribute to a deeply personal relationship and a lovely moment in the show.
The show soars in the second act when Fabrique pairs with trumpeter Ron Haynes, playing Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong. Their two duets, “Cheek to Cheek” and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” work beautifully. Each of the musicians, George Caldwell (piano), Rodney Harper (drums), Derick Polk (bass), have their moments as actors. They are excellent musicians!
On the level of a revue, this show succeeds miraculously. Instead of the neon sign above the stage that reads “Ella” I would have preferred a sign that said “Tina.” She and Ella’s songs are really the star of the show.