Cheryl Ann Allen: Sophie Tucker in Person

October 22, 2015 | By | Add a Comment

Cheryl Ann Allen as Sophie TuckerBearing an uncanny physical resemblance to her zaftig and otherwise larger-than-life subject, Cheryl Ann Allen, in her current show at Don’t Tell Mama, nearly lives up to the title “Sophie Tucker in Person.” Not only does Allen look and dress the part, she sings like Tucker and has even nailed Sophie’s wheezy speaking voice.

Written and directed by Ian Finkel (Allen’s husband), who is also credited with the orchestrations, this show is fashioned as a typical Tucker mid-career club or concert appearance, with spoken flashbacks to her early life in Ukraine, where she was born in 1884, and to Hartford, Connecticut, where she was raised—and flash-forwards to her mid-20th-century comeback (or resurrection) thanks to Ed Sullivan’s television variety show. Throughout, Allen never breaks from her Sophie character, even at her curtain call, and she frequently refers to her estimable and sole accompanist, pianist Joel Martin, as “Teddy.” (Ted Shapiro was Tucker’s longtime accompanist, starting in 1921.)

The expected Tucker signature songs are included here, of course, starting at the top with “Some of These Days” (Shelton Brooks); Jack Yellen and Milton Ager’s “I’m the Last of the Red Hot Mamas” (as “Sophie” notes, “They’ve all cooled down but me”); “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” (W. Benton Overstreet, Billy Higgins); and the ever-treacly “My Yiddishe Momme” (Yellen, Lew Pollack). Yet one of the joys of any cabaret show is hearing for the first time a song or songs you’d never heard before, much less associated with a particular performer or composer. This show has three such numbers from her early singing career that stand apart from the more expected Tucker songbook. All are worth noting and hearing (and downloadable): “I Never Can Think of the Words” (Yellen, Vivian Ellis); “Oh! You Have No Idea” (Dan Dougherty, Phil Ponce); and, especially, “Washing the Blues from My Soul” (David Oppenheim, J. Russel Robinson).

My one quibble is that not once, but twice, Allen as Tucker refers to the early 20th century super-producer Florenz Ziegfeld, whom Sophie knew well, as “Mr. Ziegfield.” This is a fairly common mistake among non-pros, which I’ve never understood, but it’s unforgiveable for someone impersonating an early 20th century showbiz icon to mispronounce the name of one of her contemporaries and one of the era’s other major showbiz figures. Both Allen and Finkel should correct this error before the next performance.

Don’t Tell Mama  –  September 29, October 27

Category: Reviews

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About the Author ()

Robert Windeler is the author of 18 books, including biographies of Mary Pickford, Julie Andrews, Shirley Temple, and Burt Lancaster. As a West Coast correspondent for The New York Times and Time magazine, he covered movies, television and music, and he was an arts and entertainment critic for National Public Radio. He has contributed to a variety of other publications, including TV Guide, Architectural Digest, The Sondheim Review, and People, for which he wrote 35 cover stories. He is a graduate of Duke University in English literature and holds a masters in journalism from Columbia, where he studied critical writing with Judith Crist. He has been a theatre critic for Back Stage since 1999, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and is a member of The Players and the American Theatre Critics Association.

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