The Ella is, of course, Ella Fitzgerald and the “Me” is Andrea Frierson, who has written a show that fuses her love for Fitzgerald’s singing and career with her own personal and professional life and vocal ability. “Me & Ella” is part of the York Theatre Company’s “New 2 New York” series. The show is described as a work in progress, but it is already extremely enjoyable in light of Frierson’s talent and likability.
It would be easy for such an offering to come across as an egotistical exploitation of Fitzgerald. But Frierson’s personal appeal prevents that from happening. Her stories about her own family, including the singing careers of her parents, and the emotions she feels as a result of having grown up idolizing Fitzgerald ring with sincerity. She weaves in biographical information about Ella, aided by background projections of photographs and newspaper headlines depicting Ella’s life and career.
But the success of this one-woman show comes down to Frierson’s singing as she runs through the numbers that the late Ella sang. Of course, there can be only one Fitzgerald immortalized in her recordings and style, but in her own right Frierson is terrific. She zips into “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” the number that became a huge Fitzgerald hit. She provides a zingy “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” and scores with “Lucky to Me Me,” “’S Wonderful,” “Oh, Lady Be Good,” “Get Out of Town,” a poignantly expressed “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and a litany of other numbers.
Frierson has a potent voice, expert delivery and holds her own captivatingly, with songs well integrated into the text. The direction by Murphy Cross and Paul Kreppel keep the focus on target with simplicity, and Ron Abel’s musical direction and arrangements work invitingly, with Abel also at the piano, Rex Benincasa on percussion and Richie Goods on bass.
Frierson moves easily about the compact York stage, with copies of the script she is still using available on tables at both sides. The overall effect is to both introduce an audience to Frierson’s considerable vocal talent and remind us anew about what a treasure Ella Fitzgerald was. At York Theatre at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street). Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed July 17, 2017.