Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of Intimate Apparel
Red Hot Mama premiered Off-Broadway in 2002, but this production seems completely fresh and is ultimately pretty glorious. Whether you are familiar with the life and history of Sophie Tucker, or you are new to this theatrical icon, it is truly a rip-roaring evening at Seven Angels Theatre filled with sophisticated and witty tunes, as well as plenty of sass.
Perhaps because Sharon McNight has been attached to this show for nearly two decades, she practically breathes the style and extravagance of Sophie Tucker in her every gesture, and she has created a show that entertains from beginning to end. Red Hot Mama is a combination of different moments in Tucker's life and career, as well as a showcase for a host of wonderful old songs. McNight speaks directly to the audience throughout the show and shares the stage with a terrific onstage band, under the expert musical direction of Brent C. Mauldin.
Red Hot Mama flashes back and forth in time as McNight engages the audience with chat about Tucker's series of husbands, performing several musical numbers. Indeed, McNight is in full diva mode and is both hilarious and a fabulous singer and entertainer. Among the many songs that are featured, McNight especially shines in the hysterical "Hula Lou" (complete with a hula skirt) and the dirty and delightful "You've Gotta See Your Mama." There are also a few times when she invites the audience to sing along with her, such as in "Ain't She Sweet," with the lyrics to the songs projected on the back wall of the set.
Another highlight is a resplendent and moving rendition of "The Man I Love," and it is great to see McNight perform "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love," which was Tucker's big number in the 1938 Cole Porter musical Leave It to Me. Other tunes presented include excellent renditions of "It All Depends on You," "After You've Gone," and (of course) "Last of the Red Hot Mamas." It is no surprise that Tucker's signature number, "Some of These Days," is saved for the finale and McNight certainly sings it to a fare-the-well.
In between the songs, there are various phone conversations in two different backstage dressing rooms, located on either side of the stage (the wonderful scenic design is by Daniel Husvar). The array of costumes that McNight changes into throughout the show are simply gorgeous (though there is no costume designer credit in the program). Also, the lighting design by Scott Andrew Cally is just perfect for this evening of entertainment.
In addition to shining as a performer, Sharon McNight's witty and often riotous patter between the songs include at least one or two lines you will want to repeat to friends after the show, and her direction is airtight.
As musical biography shows go, Red Hot Mama is supremely funny and almost guaranteed to leave you with a big smile on your face. For an especially naughty and musically overflowing good time, I doubt that you could do better than to catch Sharon McNight in Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story at Seven Angels Theatre.
Through March 11, 2018, at Seven Angels Theatre, 1 Plank Rd, Waterbury CT. For tickets, please visit www.sevenangelstheatre.org or call the box office at 203-757-4676.