Monday, December 6, 2010

Review of 'Last of the Red Hot Mamas'

Sophie Tucker was one of the queens of show business. With a career that spanned several decades, styles of music, and deeply impacted the likes of Bette Middler, even those of us unfamiliar with Tucker, have likely been impacted by her contributions. When I heard that the New Jewish Theatre was performing a show entitled "Last of the Red Hot Mama's", I figured it would be worth learning more about.
It turns out that everything about Sophie Tucker was large. Her personality, her voice, and apparently, her libido. The NJT's take on her definitely got the first two parts of this equation right. The cast were all solid, particularly the three actresses playing Sophie throughout her life. Each brought a great deal of talent and passion, and songs like 'My Yiddishe Momma' were filled with emotion. The new theater at the Staenberg JCC has top quality lighting, while maintaining an rather intimate feel. A few lines were lost when actors were facing away from us, but in general, being up close to the action was worth it.

The story largely follows the life of Sophie Tucker from young immigrant, working in her parents restaurant, through her career starting off in tin pan alley, to her ascent as an international sensation. The story weaves in songs from the period to help tell the story, as well as to provide background into the sounds of the times.

I can certainly see my grandparents getting nostalgic at the performance. Which brings me to a criticism of the show. Sophie Tucker's performance and persona drew greatly from the risque and often relatively explicit content, hence the name 'Red Hot Mama'. With the exception of a few lines of dialogue, well into the second half of the show, there was little attention given to this aspect of Sophie Tucker.

Overall, the show was well produced and performed. If you are thinking about checking it out, stay tuned for details about a special performance (and price) for young adults. You can also check out dates and prices here.

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