Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song
Jan. 23—March 16
1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria, VA
The songs come first and the script a very distant second in Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song. The musical revue, directed by song-and-dance showman Maurice Hines, stars R&B singer Freda Payne as the iconic jazz singer. Backed by an able five-piece jazz band, Payne warbles her way through the American songbook. She’s a pleasing enough impersonator, and if only MetroStage were presenting her in a cabaret act instead of a musical, audiences would have a reason to mosey on out to Alexandria. But sadly, First Lady of Song is yet another biographical show that strings together musical numbers with a script thinner than the mesh screens separating the actors from the band. After the opening doo-wop of “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” the screens are pulled back; the musicians each have a handful of lines throughout the show. They do their best. Payne captivates the crowd best when she’s hanging in the middle ranges, and she mimics Fitzgerald’s coloratura-like leaps well, even if her high notes are a touch shaky. Now in her 70s, she can shuffle but not really dance. She’s gracious, classy, and seems a bit tired. Other Hines-generated shows have toured beyond D.C. Here’s hoping he decides to give poor Payne a rest, and retires this torch-singer jukebox musical come March.