Of all the voices in jazz, soul or gospel, Ella Fitzgerald might just be the voice to end all voices. Known for the smoothness of her tones; the ability to sustain and stretch long, round notes and her ever crowd-pleasing improvisation, Fitzgerald achieved unparalleled international acclaim. On Oct. 1, Tina Fabrique, a jazz star in her own right, will bring Fitzgerald to life in the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of “Ella.”
TINA FABRIQUE AS ELLA FITZGERALD
“I was drawn to the role because I had never thought about doing a legendary jazz singer. What drew me was the fact that no one really knew who Ella was. She was on all these variety shows, but nobody knew anything about her personally. This was my opportunity to tell her story,” Fabrique said.
Fabrique said she was never intimidated by performing as Fitzgerald, particularly singing the way Fitzgerald sang, which requires pace, confidence and an uncanny talent. “You’d be surprised by how many singers were overwhelmed with the idea. I approached the role more as an actress. I figured if I was going to be Ella, then singing was a given.
“But I needed to be aware of her body language, the way she spoke, the way she communicated with people. I knew that by studying her style and her music, that would come,” Fabrique said.
Fabrique’s breakout performance occurred when she was 16 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, also the place where Fitzgerald’s superstardom began. At the Apollo, Fabrique gained the attention of legendary tap dancer and actor Honi Coles. Coles was impressed, and had a hand in Fabrique’s first Broadway appearance in “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” a show in which he starred.
Fabrique also sang with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, recorded a dance album in the ’80s, and is the voice of the first theme song from “The Reading Rainbow.” Fabrique told the story of a young Filipino man who watched “The Reading Rainbow” before coming to America, and thanked her for motivating him to learn English.
Fabrique’s longevity as a jazz singer is more than the power and beauty of her voice. The artist has a serious regimen to protect her voice, and to ensure her overall health. “I eat really well. I don’t eat fast foods.
“I haven’t eaten red meat in 35 years. I try to eat organically. I think everything you do is reflected in what you put in your body. I exercise at least three times a week. My favorite things are spinning and the elliptical machine. I like walking on the street, but I don’t like treadmills. I like trampolines. I travel with a pilates machine,” she said.
When the show arrives in Pittsburgh, you will witness not only the great story of Fitzgerald, but the eloquence and graceful presence of Fabrique herself. Of the opportunity, she said, “[Performing] as Ella, who didn’t have the greatest speaking ability, or who wasn’t considered the prettiest person, who could have done drugs and drank, who won 13 Grammys, and was honored all over the world, it’s a godly gig. It’s the kind of job that you get because someone has done the right thing. We want people to see that you can come from humble beginnings and be uplifted in your craft.”
(The show runs until Nov. 1. For tickets and show times, call 412-316-1600, or visit ppt.org.)