By Frank Rizzo

September 30, 2010

The show: “Ella”

The place: Long Wharf Theatre’s main stage, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven.

What is it?: A six actor/musician bio-show of the late great vocalist Ella Fitzgerald with Tina Fabrique as the singer.

Who will like it?: This is one of those shows you can recommend to almost anyone. Even if they’re not taken by the bio-story, they will be entertained by some terrific musicianship and singing. 

Who won’t:  Those looking for greater drama may not find it with Fitzgerald’s life story though Jeffrey Hatcher has crafted an entertaining, easy- lifting presentation and Fabrique infuses the character with depth of feeling far beyond the text.

Wait, didn’t we see this show in Hartford? Er..twice?:  Yep. The show premiered at TheaterWorks in 2005 as “Ella: Off the Record.” Fabrique was fab but script was clunky. It was revised with a new script by Hatcher and played regional theaters across the country, returning to town as a summer show at Hartford Stage two years ago.

Worth a return visit? It’s my third time at this rodeo and I found it the best acted and sung of the trio of productions, again smartly directed by Rob Ruggiero (who co-conceived the work with Dyke Garrison).

 The quartet is terrific, too: George Caldwell on piano (also the show’s music director), Rodney Harper on drums, Cliff Kellam on bass and Ron Haynes on trumpet who also does two fine “Satchmo” numbers. Harold Dixon brings sympathy and exasperation as the agent/manager who creates some conflict in which the narrative can spin. But…

There’s a but?: The production’s sound is geared for a much larger theater. The show will tour onto some big presenting houses after the New Haven run but it’s not there yet. Several of the numbers simply overpower the Long Wharf space. The first act closer is meant to have an emotional impact, but it just blasts through the theater — and not in a good way. But..

Another but?: But it’s a relatively minor and correctable flaw in an otherwise entertaining evening. 

Twitter review in 140 characters or less?: “Ella:” One helluva show. Tina Fabrique beautifully conjures the singer and it’s so nice to have her back, if only for an evening, both of them.

Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: There’s a telling  moment towards the end of the show when Ella steps away from the microphone to sing to her son in the audience. After a few moments, she dissolves into tears. But I don’t think it’s the song that causes the reaction but the experience of her hearing her true voice unfiltered. It’s only when she returns to the stage and she is again behind the mike does she regain her composure and feel safe again.

Far more than the details of her biography, this was the theatrical moment that explains the anonymous life she projected on stage, one in which she could disappear and her music of others emerge pure and unburdened by her own life.  

Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission.

Runs through: Oct. 17.

Info:  203-787-4282 and

Courtesy, Hartford Courant,