Sunday, July 11, 2021

They Came Back!

Yep. They came back indeed. 

Socially-distanced, and masked, a respectable crowd of theatre lovers attended VA Rep's first live production since the pandemic dimmed the lights more than a year ago. 

Ella and Her Fella Frank was a fitting choice for VA Rep's return. Light fare, familiar music, and two of the most beloved local actors - Scott Wichmann (Frank Sinatra) and Desiree Roots (Ella Fitzgerald). A dip your toes in the water kind of re-entry. Refreshing, not too deep, and fun. 

This juke box musical was first conceptualized in 1999 by the late Randy Strawderman. With his family in the audience and a dimming of the lights after the show, this memorial performance was a fitting tribute to a man who was an influential part of the Richmond theatre community. 

Written by Bo Wilson, and directed by Katrinah Carol Lewis, Ella and Her Fella Frank imagines the heavenly reunion of real-life friends Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. 

Roots was resplendent as the legendary Fitzgerald, with truly knockout costuming. And Wichmann, long known for his portrayal of Sinatra, was handsome and charming. Every so often he would glance up to the balcony where his wife was sitting. My heart melted. 

Roots and Wichmann sang their hearts out with performances of favorites such as 'Lady and the Tramp,' 'Can't We Be Friends,' 'Cheek to Cheek,' and a scat-tastic "It Don't Mean a Thing.'
Unfortunately, the live band often, and in key moments, drowned out their sound. At times it seemed to be the battle of the saxophones rather than the duets of Ella and Frank. 

It was opening night, so hopefully the sound balance has been worked out. The show really does have the potential to be heavenly. 

The set was impressive. I loved the globe-shaped lights. The musicians were appropriately and safely spaced. Along with the nuanced lighting, we really did get the feel of being in an intimate night club. 

And there were several nods to the pandemic. Roots and Wichmann moved around the stage at an arm's length from each other - socially distanced dancing - and each time they tried to touch, there was an invisible shield that drove them apart. 

Near the end, they were finally able to embrace . . . life beginning to return to normal. 

As she enters the stage, a look of wonder on her face, Roots comments to band leader/pianist Larri Branch "they came back!" 

"Yep," was his signature reply. 

 And we did come back. And it felt momentous. There were more than a few tears. I cried a few of them. 
When Phil Whiteway addressed the audience and welcomed them back after the long hiatus, I got choked up. 

VA Rep's Ella and Her Fella Frank was just the right way to bring back the audience. Congratulations to the entire cast and crew for getting our feet wet after so long out of the water. 

Performances continue through September 12, 2021. For tickets click here.

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