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Review: ELLA AND HER FELLA FRANK at Virginia Repertory Theatre

Onstage now through September 12

Review: ELLA AND HER FELLA FRANK at Virginia Repertory Theatre

It's exciting and a little daunting entering a big auditorium after many months. Virginia Rep's welcome-back gift to its audiences is "Ella and Her Fella Frank," a concert-with-dialogue that brings Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra together to sing a good-sized chunk of the Great American Songbook.

A new book by Bo Wilson revives the concept Barksdale Theatre's Randy Strawderman had decades ago for this cheerful rendering of favorite songs. Wilson includes many nods to the quarantine we've just endured, with gentle humor that goes down easy.

Richmond favorites Desirée Roots and Scott Wichmann suggest more than impersonate the beloved singers. Imitation is not the point; this is mostly a playful exchange of great music lovingly rendered. Backed by a polished onstage septet led by Larri Branch, the two stars take us through Basie and Berlin, Gershwin and Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Arlen and Strayhorn. A highlight is a fun medley in which Ella and Frank run through more than a dozen numbers about places, from "I Love Paris" and "Georgia on My Mind" to the inevitable "New York, New York".

The two stars are smooth and masterful, though the uncredited sound design lets them down. While the instrumentals were clear, the singers often sounded as if they were performing from the bottom of a steel drum, and some jokes were inaudible. But the set and lighting design featuring paper lanterns and shifting colors was lovely (that's Josafath Reynoso for the set and BJ Wilkinson for the lights), and Roots got a splendid Ella wardrobe from costume designers Sue Griffin and Keith Walker (Wichmann's tux was nice, too).

As a frictionless, safe reentry to theater-everyone in the building is masked--this is a rewarding and comforting evening. Life is back, art is back, we all are back.

"Ella and Her Fella Frank"

At Virginia Rep, The November Theatre, 114 W. Broad St., Richmond

Through September 12

Tickets $58 (rush tickets and group discounts available)

Info: 804-282-2620 or va-rep.org

Photo credit: Aaron Sutten


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From This Author - Susan Haubenstock

Susan Haubenstock has written theater criticism since 1989, first for the Stamford (CT) Advocate and then for the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch. She has an MA in theater from the University of Illin... (read more about this author)


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