Sophie Tucker's One Night Stand
King's Head Theatre Spring 2006
This rip-roaring raucous show is bigger and brassier than its small theatre and cast of two might suggest, and a fitting tribute to an all-but-forgotten American star.
Sophie Tucker (1884-1966) was a buxom blues singer in the mould of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, with the notable difference that Sophie was white and Jewish.
Like her contemporary Al Jolson she began her career in blackface but quickly found her own persona. Though she could bewail the blues with the best of them, in songs like Lord You Made the Night Too Long, her image was a feistier one - when she sang an upbeat Some of These Days You're Gonna Miss Me Honey she practically glowed in anticipation of the bastard's unhappiness.
Declaring herself the Last of the Red Hot Mamas and sprinkling her act with mildly bawdy humour, she was a star of vaudeville and later nightclubs into her eighties.
Sue Kelvin captures Tucker's sound and, more importantly, her spirit in this bio-salute show, ably assisted by a droll if occasionally too camp Michael Roulston playing a raft of supporting roles from the piano.
She gives us all the songs, from My Yiddeshe Mama (which was a hit for Tucker in both English and Yiddish) to the hear-it-to-believe-it Makin' Wicky Wacky Down In Waikiki.
She mixes the biographical material with typical Tucker light-blue jokes, delivered with exactly the right 'I'm having fun and I pity you if you aren't' attitude.
The book in biography shows like this is always the weakest part (Why is this person telling us her life story?).
But Chris Burgess' script is better than most and appropriately tongue-in-cheek, as the newly dead Tucker arrives in Limbo and must try to convince God to send her to Hell, which she assumes will be a far more entertaining place to spend eternity than Heaven.
If, like an ever-shrinking number of us, you're old enough to remember the real Sophie Tucker, you'll be delighted by how successfully Sue Kelvin captures her look, sound and spirit.
And if Tucker is new to you, you'll have the pleasure of discovering an irresistible American original.
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Review - Sophie Tucker's One Night Stand - King's Head Theatre 2006