Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 13, 2008


Hartford Stage
50 Church Street
Hartford CT
Now through July 27, 2008

July 9, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

"I guess what everyone wants more than anything else is to be loved. And to know that you loved me for my singing is too much for me. Forgive me if I don't have all the words. Maybe I can sing it and you'll understand." – Ella Fitzgerald.

On opening night, a packed house, the audience understood. The real Ella may have been gone a dozen years but her stand-in, Tina Fabrique (almost a reincarnation), resurrected Ella’s essence and with it a renewed appreciation of Ella’s remarkable vocal gifts: how she could bend a note without blurring it and still hit it true, take a hurtin’ song as prickly as a briar patch and croon the barbs into a pool of healing tears, and then with finger-snappin’ playfulness – about as sly as a fox – swing into an upbeat novelty song that she wrote when she was still a skinny, snake-hipped young girl, "A Tisket, A Tasket."

Throughout the performance, Fabrique pattered, a la Ella , relaying the First Lady of Song’s story of early hardships, poor romantic choices, winning first prize for singing at the Apollo’s amateur night the first time she was ever on a stage, hired by Chick Webb – the beginning of her 58-year career, the springboard for thirteen Grammys and the sale of more than 40 million records.

Set Designer Michael Schweikardt’s creation of a 1966 art deco-influenced curved five-level stage in a Nice, France concert hall, is home to a swinging foursome – Piano/Conductor George Caldwell; Drums, Rodney Harper; Bass, Clifton Kellem; and Trumpet, Thad Wilson, who in one number resurrects Louis Sachmo Armstrong.

Lighting Designer John Lasiter piggybacked clues from about two dozen songs to set and enhance the music’s moods (during "That Old Black Magic," a low horizontal spot ends on Ella’s face), and the changing of colored gels keeps the staging fresh.

For an evening of fine musicianship, honed by hours and years of growing their collective talent, Tina Fabrique as Ella, and the boys in the band, swing. Ella also bebops, scats, and caresses ballads that stretch one’s soul until it aches.