Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review of "Red Hot Mama"

Sophie Tucker, the songstress and performer who was a mainstay of American entertainment during the first half of the 20th century, is being celebrated in a charming and appealing one-woman show, Red Hot Mama, at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT.

The actress and cabaret singer Sharon McNight stars as the brassy, powerhouse songbird who was a mainstay of burlesque, vaudeville and all other forms of entertainment for 60 years.  Ms. McNight also wrote the book of the musical and directed the production. 

The focus of the show is the music that made Ms. Tucker a star.  There are over two dozen songs and ditties that she made famous, many with risqué lyrics (for that time-period) and most dealing with men and relationships.  In between the musical numbers Ms. McNight has sketched out bare-bones biographical information—from her start in rundown, forgettable theaters to her numerous failed marriages (three) to her life in the big time.  While the snippets and vignettes give structure to the show, it is the songs of years ago that resonate and pulsate with emotion and titillation.

The patter she has with her three-person band, most notably Brent C. Mauldin as her accompanist and musical director Ted Shapiro, are good-humored and naughtily nice.

Sharon McNight beautifully embodies the soul and dynamism of the tireless trouper.  You can tell the actress is giving it her all, looking to please every last person watching the show.  On the night I saw the production the theater was, due to inclement weather, not very crowded.  Ms. McNight could easily haved dialed in her performance, but just like her alter ego she worked unremittingly to beguile and captivate the audience.  

While on-stage the performer is sassy, full of swagger, and brimming with bluster.  Her portrayal of Ms. Tucker away from the bright lights and cheering audiences is more reflective and melancholy.

As director, Ms. McKnight, gives the show a breezy and lighthearted gloss.  However, a different set of eyes might have been able to tighten up the production, giving it a better flow.

Red Hot Mama, a worthwhile trip down memory lane from one of the great performers of the last century.  Playing at Seven Angels Theater through March 11th.

No comments: