Starting with a lovely stock footage and photograph montage of New York City from the 1920s and 30’s, a voice-over gives the audience a brief history of Ella Fitzgerald’s early years, leading up to her debut performance.
Simone Lee, backed by the Charlie Horst Jazz Orchestra, comprising Nick Weston (Piano), Steve Long (guitar), Greg Nightingale (drums), Dave Blackmore (double bass), Chris Koto (keys), Evan Bassani (saxophone), Chris Bickley (Trumpet) and Aaron Deanshaw (trombone), takes the audience on a journey through Fitzgerald’s life through her music, starting with Judy from Fitzgerald’s debut performance at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
Whilst Lee shares most of the snippets of Fitzgerald’s musical history, the screen and printed text are used to cover the Pan-American Airlines incident that forced the cancellation of Fitzgerald’s Australian Concerts and was one of the early points of the Civil Rights movement. This sets the tone beautifully to lead into Summertime and a photo montage of the segregation in that era.
Lee, the band, and guest singer Roland Burghardt, get to showcase their jazz background with some good instrumental improvisation and scatting. Fitzgerald’s range and clarity are, however, a little harder to replicate, and the sound balances do not support Lee as a singer, with the band often drowning out lyrics and the softer top notes at the height of Lee’s register.
It would also be nice for the Lee to give the audience an insight as to why she has chosen to honour Ella Fitzgerald, which would help transform this show from a musical tribute to a more personal cabaret. Whilst Fitzgerald was known to be shy, it would be nice to see Lee have more confidence and stage craft, and resist the urge to turn to the band or the screen and thus turn her back on the audience. This would also improve the connection with the audience, which is already difficult given the broad space of the venue.
If you are looking for a nice evening of music, love the music that Ella Fitzgerald made famous, or simply want learn a little more about one of the music greats, this is the show for you.
Reviewed by Jade Kops, special guest Fringe Critic, Glam Adelaide
Venue: 48 Lounge, The Big Slapple, North Tce, Adelaide
Season: 9pm, Thur 15 – Fri 16 Mar 2012
Tickets: Adults $20, Bank SA Customer $16, Bank SA Support Act $10, Child $12, Concession $16, Fringe Benefits $12, School – YEP $12
Bookings: Fringetix 1300-FRINGE (1300-374643), their outlets, or online