Co-conceiver and director Rob Ruggiero will stage the productions at not-for-profit regional theatres — from Massachusetts to the San Jose, with Tina Fabrique starring in the title role for each engagement.
Ruggiero told Playbill.com there is interest from commercial producers to bring the First Lady of Song to Manhattan in 2007, or take her on a wider commercial tour.
The 2005 world premiere production of Ella — Off the Record was a sensation at TheaterWorks in Hartford. The extended run was a happy thing, Ruggiero said, but the project wasn't all it could be.
Late in the Connecticut run of Ella — Off the Record, playwright Jeffrey Hatcher (Scotland Road, Three Viewings, Never Gonna Dance) visited to take a look at the show, toward penning a new book for the musical Ruggiero and Dyke Garrison had co-conceived. Garrison penned the earlier script.
One of the challenges of creating the piece, Ruggiero told Playbill.com, was that Fitzgerald didn't have monumental conflict in her life. She even says so in the new version. Enter Hatcher. "Jeffrey has laced in a stronger dramatic conflict for her," Ruggiero said. "The music has slightly changed, but the book is very different. Act Two previously worked so well because she talked to us, and now she talks to the audience earlier — in Act One. Her relationship with the audience is primary now."
Ella takes place in Nice in 1966, around the time of the death of her half-sister, Frances. She flies from Europe to attend the funeral in the States, and returns for the concert in France. Central to this new version is Ella sparring with her producer, Norman, an off-stage voice who urges her to share patter — to talk to the audience about her life.
What emerges from Hatcher's conflict is an opportunity for Ella to more naturally reflect on and catalog her past experience, which includes a revelation about her son, Ray.
Act One represents a rehearsal, and Act Two takes place at the concert, Ruggiero said. Musical direction and arrangements are by Danny Holgate, who was attached from the beginning.
Hatcher was commissioned by Florida Stage to create the new version; both Florida Stage and TheaterWorks will benefit from the show's future life. Once word got out that Ella was a viable property, other nonprofit theatres lined up to book the show in 2006-07.
The new production bows at Florida Stage in Manalapan, FL, June 20.
The 2006 version of the bio-musical is now called just Ella (no Off the Record). Ruggiero will direct the production around the country, with some theatres sharing sets and some creating their own scenic world.
Fabrique (of Off-Broadway's Dessa Rose) will sing about two-dozen of Ella Fitzgerald's biggest hits, and lesser-known tunes, including "How High the Moon," "Our Love is Here to Stay," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "That Old Black Magic," "Cheek To Cheek," "Blue Skies," "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," "Love and Kisses," "Cow Cow Boogie," "Angel Eyes," "Mr. Paganini," "The Nearness of You," "Miss Otis Regrets," "I'll Never Be the Same" and more.
The 2006-07 Ella schedule will be Florida Stage (June 20-Sept. 3), San Diego Rep (Sept. 9-Oct. 15), Arizona Theater Company Nov. 25-Dec. 22 (Tucson) and Dec. 31-Jan. 28, 2007 (Phoenix) and Feb. 2-11, 2007 (Mesa); Cleveland Play House (March 23-April 15, 2007); Asolo Theatre in Sarasota, FL (May 9-June 3, 2007), San Jose Rep (June 23-July 22, 2007) and Barrington Stage Co. (Aug. 9-27, 2007).
For more information, visit www.floridastage.org.