By staff May 14, 2007



The Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Ella tells the story behind the music of the legendary Ella Fitzgerald.


By Kay Kipling


Nowadays especially, we more or less expect the lives of our entertainers to be fraught with high drama. Whether it’s drug addictions and stints in rehab, multiple marriages, legal battles or just the pressures of living life under the media microscope, it’s par for the course for us to glimpse every second of their rollercoaster rides.


That may have been true for some celebrities in the past, too, but not for Ella Fitzgerald, the singing legend who’s being portrayed in Ella at the Asolo Rep. If Ella had an addiction—besides performing—it might have been food; she was distinctly unglamorous and ruefully overweight. True, she had two marriages that didn’t work out, but in neither case did the breakups bring really big headlines. And she was a private person offstage with a reputation for being “the nice one.”

Tina Fabrique stars as Ella Fitzgerald in the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Ella.


All of which makes it a challenge to dramatize her life, as Rob Ruggiero, Dyke Garrison and Jeffrey Hatcher have done with this show. To form a dramatic arc of some kind, they place Ella in the studio just before a major concert in the mid-1960s and just after the death of her beloved half-sister, Frances. They make the crisis of the evening her estrangement from her adopted son, who was in fact Frances’ biological offspring but was given to Ella in a gesture of affection and compassion for Ella’s childlessness.


While Ella (Tina Fabrique) tells us snippets of her life story, she’s also, of course, singing up a storm, ranging from the numbers a shy young Ella started with at the Apollo Theater in Harlem to her first experiments with the scat singing she came to symbolize so well to novelty hits like A-Tisket, A-Tasket, which she co-wrote. She also has, in the second act, which is set up more like her actual concert, some nice duets with trumpeter Brian Sledge, who does a pretty uncanny Louis Armstrong imitation.


And the songs, of course, are what people really come for in this show, and what Ella herself would want us to remember her by. Fortunately her memory is well served by Fabrique, who sometimes looks a bit like Ella, especially in her less flattering mode, and manages to sound quite a lot like her, too. The Nearness of You, Mr. Paganini, Lullaby of Birdland, That Old Black Magic—these are just a few of the classic tunes Fabrique renders, well-aided by the four musicians onstage with her; and by the end of the evening you really do feel that you’ve seen—and heard—Ella herself perform.


Ella continues onstage at the Asolo Rep through June 10; for tickets call 351-8000 or visit


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