Entertainment » Theatre

Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Jun 28, 2010
Mary Callanan stars in the New Rep’s cabaret-style summer show, Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas
Mary Callanan stars in the New Rep’s cabaret-style summer show, Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas  (Source:Andre Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures)

Long before rap or hip-hop had male performers bragging about their prowess, bawdy jazz singer Sophie Tucker was assuring audiences that she was one ample, burning handful of woman, and that she was not to be trifled with.

Boston-area star Mary Callanan, recently a star in SpeakEasy Stage's smash hit production of The Great American Trailer Park Musical, takes the stage as Tucker in the New Repertory Theater's summer show, Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas. Callanan is suitably attired in Act One in a crimson dress and abetted by John Malinowski's bold lighting design, which starts out splashing her in red before moving on to a more complex palette.

The show's theme--and it sheer braggadocio--is established right out of the gate, with the opening number "I'm the Last of the Red Hot Mamas." The song is risque--that was part and parcel of Tucker's act, and playwrights Richard Hopkind, Jack Fournier, and Kathy Halenda celebrate it--and so is the between-renditions patter (one of the best lines has Tucker confiding to the audience that she likes a man who is "French, knows how to use his tongue, and can breathe through his ears!") Callanan makes good on the show's promise, burning up the stage with renditions of "You've Gotta See Your Mama," "I Know My Baby Is Cheatin' On Me," and the original "Real Women Have Curves" anthem, "I Don't Want to Get Thin."

The cabaret-style performance is divided into two acts, giving patrons a chance to enjoy the New Rep's new concessions offerings of beer and wine. Each act features eleven songs and plenty of earthily entertaining patter. When Callanan re-appears for Act Two, she's clad in a sensational black evening gown--just the right touch for the second half's slightly classier tone, which includes a sassy rendition of "The Man I Love." (But fear not: Tucker's irrepressible gusto shines through in songs such as "The Lady is a Tramp," "Living Alone and I Like It," and "Fifty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong."

Callanan delivers a Sophie Tucker who boasts a daring edge, even in this age of explicit lyrics--partly because of the wordplay involved in the songs, which are plenty provocative without having to get crude. In her patter's delivery, Callanan exhibits a comic sense that's as tightly honed as her singing; indeed, the two arts, stand-up and song-craft, bleed into one another, as Callanan trills the occasional word or phrase with gusto.

Callanan and musical director and pianist Todd C. Gordon swap zinging one-liners with the ease of old pros; it's easy to buy into the idea that these are two longtime performing partners with a rhythm and a style they've developed over time. When Callanan ventures off-stage for a little audience participation, Tucker's persona doesn't desert her; Callanan stay in character at all times.

Director and New Rep artistic director Kate Warner, having previously helmed the New Rep's production of Hot Mikado, proves that she's adept at putting together intimate musical evenings as well as larger-scale, complex plays loaded with song and dance.

Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas continues through July 11 at the New Repertory Theater, located at the Arsenal for the Arts, at 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown.

Tickets cost $39-$49. Senior citizens receive a $7 discount. Students receive a 50% discount. Student rush tickets cost $13. Tickets can be obtained at www.newrep.org or via phone by calling 617-923-8487.

Performance schedule: Tuesday, June 29, at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday - Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday, July 11, at 4:00 and 8:00 p.m.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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