Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story
Cinnabar Theater
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Avenue Q and Shen Yun Performing Arts

Sharon McNight
Photo by Eric Chazankin
Though one of the greatest stars of her day, Sophie Tucker has sadly been mostly forgotten in the 21st century. With vaudeville and burlesque seeming as antique as steam trains and hand-crank phones, you're about as likely to find a Sophie Tucker fan under 30 as you are to find someone over 60 with a Snapchat account. Fortunately for the memory of Ms. Tucker, Sharon McNight is doing all she can to keep the legend alive, bringing her one-woman show Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story to Petaluma's Cinnabar Theater.

Red Hot Mama not only stars McNight, it was written and directed by the veteran cabaret star, who takes her audience on a journey of memory through the life of the "last of the red hot mamas" (as Tucker was known), from her beginnings in the Russian Empire where, as Tucker puts it, "I was born in 18 ... noneofyourbusiness," through her long career on the stage, screen and radio. Along the way, McNight treats the audience to more than 20 of the songs Tucker performed over her long and illustrious career, including "There'll Be Some Changes Made," "(My) Yiddishe Momme," and "If Your Kisses Can't Hold the Man You Love (Then Your Tears Won't Bring Him Back)."

The show is also packed with some of Tucker's bawdy quips and digs at her three ex-husbands and her desire to remain unattached: "I already have one asshole in my pants!" Although McNight the writer has failed to imbue her script with a true narrative arc (this is mostly an unorganized collection of memories and one-liners), McNight the performer is the perfect person to honor Sophie Tucker. Her big voice is so brassy it could probably stand in for all 76 trombones—and McNight imbues Tucker with the emotional brass to go with it. Tucker was a proto-feminist: a confident, outspoken, independent woman who always stood up for herself. And ahead of her time: when Tucker sang "I Don't Want to Get Thin," she forged a path Meghan Trainor would travel 85 years later with her hit "All About That Bass."

Despite the weak script, McNight's performance more than compensates. She is perfectly at ease on stage and there's never a time when you're thinking about her performance. She keeps you instead enthralled in the world of Sophie Tucker. Her sass and attitude (and multiple costume changes) envelop her audience in an atmosphere of good-natured bawdiness of the sort that would be banned in Boston.

Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story runs through January 29, 2017, at the Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm Tickets are $35 general ($40 at the door), $30 for military and those under 30, and $25 for those 21 and under. Tickets and additional information are available at or by calling 707-763-8920.

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