Ella Fitzgerald's Life, Songs Merge on Stage
By Lauren Yarger
The scene: a stage of a concert hall in Nice, France, 1966. The star: Ella Fitzgerald (Tina Fabrique). The plot: Will the star, who just attended her beloved sister's funeral, be able to perform, especially after learning that her estranged son will be in the audience? The audience: you -- at Long Wharf Theatre's Mainstage.
Ella The Musical is a show combining a narrative of events in the singer's life with big band and jazz songs she made famous, like "Cheek to Cheek," Let's Call the whole Thing Off," Blue Skies" and "Lullaby of Birdland," to name a few of the 23 tunes included in the program conceived by Rob Ruggiero, who directs, and Dyke Garrison.
Helping unfold the tale are her manager, Norman Grantz (Harold Dixon) and her on-stage musicians (George Caldwell, piano, who also serves as music director, Ronny Harper, drums, Ron Hayes, trumpet and Cliff Kellam, who stands out with some solos on the trumpet) who double as some of the people the "first lady of song" meets along the way.
The first act, which includes a lot of narration about how Ella got her start, her two marriages and the relationship with her sister. It's a little slow moving, but the second act, which is staged as the Fitzgerald concert in Nice, is packed full of songs which have the audience tapping toes and bopping in the seats. Fabrique gives a nice turn as Ella and masters the scat singing which made her famous.
The show runs through Oct. 17. For information visit http://www.longwharf.org/ or call 203-787-4282