BWW Review: ZANDRA, QUEEN OF JAZZ at Smock Alley Theatre
The tale of an Inspiring Irish Trailblazer
Born Josephine Alexandra Mitchell in 1903, "Zandra" Mitchell hailed from a distinguished musical family in Phibsboro, Dublin. A multi-talented musician, Zandra was drawn to the saxophone as a teenager. In her 20's, oblivious to Irish tongue-wagging, she ventured off with an all-women band enthralling audiences in dance halls and jazz lounges across Switzerland and Germany.
Spirited and daring she slept by day, performing and partying all night. Developing a burgeoning reputation as an accomplished saxophonist whilst crossing paths with jazz legends such as Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt, Zandra's future seemed unbounded. But fate had other plans and the outbreak of World War II compelled Zandra to flee her Berlin base returning home to Ireland and bringing an abrupt end to her influential collaborations.
Zandra reputedly performed with local Irish musicians in the 60's and 70's whereafter the airwaves fell silent until she died in 1995. Inexplicably, publicly accessible information about Zandra is threadbare. Hailing from a country where artists are celebrated and revered, Zandra remained for decades an undiscovered national gem. That is about to change.
Enter Roseanne Lynch who wrote the screenplay Zandra, Queen of Jazz and is currently performing her delightful one-woman show at Smock Alley Theatre. Lynch along with her husband Richard Lennon are artistic directors of Darn Skippy Productions. Zandra, Queen of Jazz is their splendid debut stage production.
The wheels were set in motion 4 years ago when Lynch was fondly nudged by Lennon to resurrect her own saxophone which was gathering dust at home. She did so and whilst googling "Female Saxophonist Ireland" discovered the sensational Zandra. Lynch's diligent research led her to Zandra's close friend, confidant and fellow musician, Michael Gallagher who inherited Zandra's souvenirs. Lynch met with Gallagher who graciously agreed to share Zandra's story. Much of the play is based on his fond conversations with Zandra revealing remarkable anecdotes previously unknown. The play includes an endearing and nostalgic voice clip of Gallagher reminiscing about his dear friend.
We are privy to the loving connection Zandra maintained with home through her letters to her mother and brother. Alas tragedy struck too often for one so young and possibly led to her quieter latter life.
Sensitively directed by Katherine Soloviev, Lynch does a wonderful job capturing the glamour and pizzazz of Zandra's colourful and indulgent life in Europe. Lennon composed the enticing original music played by a dexterous jazz band seated above the audience. Lianne O'Shea fashioned a glam black sequined jumpsuit for Lynch and Eugene Korolkov designed the striking poster.
During this sold out run at Smock Alley Theatre, old friends and acquaintances who have their own tales to share about Zandra have been reaching out to Lynch. I am certain that future runs of this play will incorporate these emerging stories and will become a definitive treasury of an inspiring Irish trailblazer.