Review: RED HOT MAMA: THE SOPHIE TUCKER SONGBOOK at The Revolution Stage Company

The Revolution Stage Company Delivers a Legend From Beyond

By: Feb. 22, 2024
Review: RED HOT MAMA: THE SOPHIE TUCKER SONGBOOK at The Revolution Stage Company
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Who is Sophie Tucker? Why should we care about her? Last night I discovered the answers to “Who?” and “Why?” in a one-woman powerhouse performance.

Gary Powers and James Owens, in association with producer Michael Alden, gave their audiences Sharon McNight’s RED HOT MAMA: The Sophie Tucker Songbook at The Revolution Stage Company.  This extraordinary theatre company is determined to bring in exceptional productions starring local and nationwide talents. It’s wonderful to boast and brag that all of your talent has been flown in from New York, but when professional talent sits right in your own backyard you should use it. Kudos to Powers, Owens, and Alden.

Red Hot Mama is the story of show business legend, Sophie Tucker, the "Last of the Red Hot Mamas", whose remarkable career spanned six decades. It contains the music and history of burlesque, vaudeville, Broadway, and her recording career in a critically acclaimed One-Woman show. The audience walks out educated regarding the questions of “Who?” and “Why?” about this Red Hot Mama.

Tucker was born Sofiya Kalish in 1886 to a Jewish family in Tulchyn, Russian Empire, now Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine. They arrived in Boston on September 26, 1887. McNight tells a wonderful story about how the family adopted the surname Abuza as they were immigrating, her father fearing repercussions for having deserted from the Imperial Russian Army. The family settled in Hartford, Connecticut, and opened a restaurant where Sophie would entertain the customers. At the age of 17, she eloped with Louis Tuck, a beer cart driver, from whom she derived her professional surname. According to the story, Sophie added the “ER” – TUCKER --- for obvious theatre marquee clarity.

Often billed early in her career as "The First Lady of Show Business," the brassy and ballsy Sophie Tucker is a strong opinionated woman; not unlike the mega-talented star portraying her on stage at RSC.  McNight was dressed in black velvet, with a stunning sheer overlay, and a large white multi-flower corsage. Very period and gorgeous.

McNight sang many of Tucker's greatest hits – “I’m Living Alone and I Like It”,  “Yiddishe Momme”, and “ Some Of These Days” – to name a few of the greatest long-lost tunes introduced by Sophie Tucker.   During her program, she acknowledged her debonair piano man Ted Shapiro, played by the maestro of the keyboard Wayne Abravanel. In real life, Tucker hired pianist songwriter Shapiro as her accompanist and musical director. He remained in that position throughout her career. Besides writing a number of songs for her, Shapiro became part of her stage act, playing piano on stage while she sang, and exchanging banter and wisecracks with her in between numbers.  McNight and Abravanel brought those wonderful nostalgic on-stage moments back to life. 

McNight has been performing this particular Cabaret act for over 2 decades. It doesn’t show, because it is still fresh and crisp as if it were created yesterday.  Much of the sharp spontaneity was because during the performance McNight converses openly with her audience.  With a keen eye and ear focused on the crowd's reactions “Sophie” would turn immediately to respond. The pure genius of this is that McNight never once slips into contemporary or present-day conversations. She embodies the Diva fully and never drops out of character. At one point she mentions the classic 50s-60s TV game show “What’s My Line” and her visual is very clever; she asks what do you do on Sunday nights? As if we faithfully plopped ourselves down on the couch each week to watch.  Some jokes are specifically geared to a certain generation, but the entire show is crafted to near perfection so that every generation can enjoy it. 

The humor is absolute Tucker.  If you go in thinking you’ll be hearing the bawdy jokes Bette Midler tells in her act as Sophie Tucker – I’m pleased to say that you won’t.  What you will get is the wit and risque songs from the real Sophie Tucker joke archives.  McNight’s timing is flawless and she summons the spirit of the grand Diva herself and delivers 100%.  

The star bringing Sophie Tucker to life is Sharon McNight.  She began her career in San Francisco where she received her Master of Arts degree in directing from San Francisco State.  She made her Broadway debut in 1989 in STARMITES, creating the role of Diva. She received a Tony Award nomination as “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” for her performance, and is the recipient of the coveted Theatre World Award for “Outstanding Broadway Debut”. In 2010 she was chosen as one of the 50 most influential people in cabaret. She says she has played from Moose Hall to Carnegie Hall and anywhere the check doesn’t bounce. She has won six San Francisco Cabaret Gold awards, 3 Cable Car awards, a MAC award, and a Bistro award.

To provide for one costume change a radio news broadcast in which the announcer is heard reporting that Tucker gave a Royal Command Performance before Queen Elizabeth which was well received.  Returned to the States to once again perform at The Latin Quarter; a nightclub in New York City where all the big-name entertainers filled the room with adoring fans. By the time McNight sang her last note and bowed at curtain call; I have no doubt that she acquired a few more adoring fans herself.

When the RED HOT MAMA: THE Sophie Tucker SONGBOOK returns place it on your list of MUST-SEE events. Learn the "Who?" and "Why?" about the great Sophie Tucker for yourself.  For that matter, look at the entire production calendar for The Revolution Stage Company and mark them as one of your top five (5) theatre destinations in Palm Springs.  Producers Powers, Owens, and Alden are striving to build a professional variety entertainment venue with plays, musicals, cabaret, piano bar, and creative evenings of exceptional local talents.

THE REVOLUTION STAGE COMPANY,611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92264. For more information about current and future productions: https://revolutionstagecompany.com



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