Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Sophie Tucker: The Last of The Red Hot Mamas"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Beverly Creasey

Hooray for Cabaret

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

Here’s good news for cabaret fans. There seems to be a trend in the offing. Several theaters have embraced the art, some on their main stage, some when their main show is dark.

New Repertory Theatre is celebrating Sophie Tucker (who might have, like Little Tommy Tucker, sung for her supper) but mostly she sang for a lot more on the vaudeville circuit. Born in the 1880s, Tucker vamped her way through the roaring ‘20s right up to the swinging ‘60s. You might have seen her holding forth on the Ed Sullivan Show. She brags in the script (written by Hopkins, Fournier and Halenda) that her fame spread far and wide,“from opera halls to beer halls.”

Mary Callanan inhabits Miss Tucker in the rousing (and mildly blue) revue called SOPHIE TUCKER: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas (PLAYING THROUGH July 11th). Callanan transforms herself into the bawdy, brassy legend who had three husbands and legions of admirers and a voice that could belt…and caress a lyric too. With the help of Todd Gordon at the piano as her foil, Callanan delivers a passel of show stoppers, from The Man I Love to her signature blockbuster, Some of These Days She starts the song slowly, softly, then builds it into an emotional juggernaut. Director Kate Warner brings a touching sweetness to Sophie’s character when she reminisces about her Yiddishe Momme.

Callanan is a consummate comedienne, which pays off royally when she plucks two mighty good sports out of the audience to hula with her. One great guy (who is a fellow critic) played along and matched Callanan move for move in his grass skirt. It was sheer delight.

The Wellesley Summer Players gave over their stage to cast members of THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL for a cabaret about creating theater. LIKE NO BUSINESS I KNOW showcased the musical talents of actors who don’t often get to sing because WST doesn’t do musicals as a rule. Eric Hamel, whose acting, singing, whistling and fiddling skills are in demand all over town, put the show together with the help of choreographer Catherine Arnold. We were treated to Heather Boas’ hilarious Summer in Ohio, Sarah Barton’s cheeky This Place is Mine and Marge Dunn’s bittersweet What I Did for Love. Lily Saffer and Hamel joined forces for a lovely duet and Dan Bolton delivered an earnest I Can Play This Part. Here’s hoping more theaters engage their actors in after hours cabaret. It’s the perfect match: the theater is there, all paid for already. All you need add is talent.

"Sophie Tucker: The Last of The Red Hot Mamas" (24 June - 11 July)
Arsenal Center for The Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, WATERTOWN MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide