I caught Arena Stage in Exile’s new production, Ella, a bio-jukebox presentation of the life of Ella Fitzgerald. While serviceable as a dramatic piece, the show is a terrifically entertaining evening thanks to an awesome line-up of songs and the incendiary performance of Tina Fabrique as Fitzgerald. There is also wonderful musicianship by the quartet of performers backing her up.
Fabrique does an amazing job of conveying Fitzgerald without lapsing into bad imitiation. Enough of the Fitzgerald vocal ticks are on display, but it also feels like the performer is giving a genuine, spontaneous performance. Fabrique also takes advantage of signature Ella mannerisms — the tight neck, slight hunch, waving hankercheif — but never goes too far or even tempts parody.
It was my first time attempting to go to Arena Stages new temporary quarters in Crystal City. Arena should be ashamed of the unhelpful, confusing directions on their site and the pathetic signage in the Crystal City area. Leave yourself a good 15 more than you think — you’ll need it.
Finally, on a political note, I sincerely hope that if this show is up for any Helen Hayes Awards, that it is not as a “resident” production. Although Fabrique has a history with Arena, the show originated at Hartford TheaterWorks which had the same star, director, music director, set, costume, wig; and other than Fabrique, none of the performers have apparently appeared previously at Arena. So how does this qualify as a resident production?