Andrea Frierson in ‘Me & Ella’ (Photo: Ben Strothmann via The Broadway Blog.)
By Ryan Leeds
Even before music floods the stage, Andrea Frierson is the embodiment of song. Her joyous zest for life emanates throughout the York Theatre Company’s Me & Ella, where she is currently honoring her musical inspiration: Ella Fitzgerald.
Tribute shows are done exponentially, but rarely to the level of quality demonstrated by Ms. Frierson in her warm and winning solo show, Me & Ella. Frierson is a Broadway veteran, having starred in major shows including Once on This Island, The Lion King, Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk and many others. She’s also a classically trained Shakespearean actor. Clearly, she has years of stage experience under her belt. Yet she possesses the type of skill that cannot be learned. It’s the type of natural talent that suggests, “Ya either have it, or ya don’t.” Undeniably, Ms. Frierson has it. She is not a Fitzgerald impersonator by any means. Instead, she lovingly pays homage to a lady who inspired her to become the dynamic performer that she is today.
Frierson has her mom and dad to thank for exposing her to the “first lady of song.” Her parents were both opera singers who nurtured their daughter’s love for jazz—a rare find among many opera aficionados who consider jazz too bohemian. Still, her family understood the power that music has to inspire and transform. Although it lacks intense dramatic stakes, Frierson’s story is worth hearing. Whether she recalls her father’s participation in the civil rights march in Washington, D.C. or relives her shining moments on television’s Star Search, Frierson’s story is uniquely hers.
Her show, which she both wrote and stars, is full of classic Ella tunes including “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” “Laura,” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” It also offers other genres like opera, pop, and Broadway, all of which are performed with great versatility and style. Ron Abel, her musical director and arranger, leads a tight jazz trio that is careful to always accompany but never overshadow Frierson.
Directors Murphy Criss and Paul Kreppel lend gentle touches to both the material and their leading lady by keeping the memoir floating along at a brisk 80-minute pace. The material is not new, however. Frierson, Criss, and Kreppel have presented the material at Feinstein’s/54 Below and throughout other cabaret venues.
The current version is part of The York’s New2NY series, which showcases new musicals that are between developmental stages and full production. As it stands now, it is in excellent form. Simple projections complement the show and, should the show flourish to a larger scale, Frierson would be wise to maintain her musical ensemble.
Throughout the show, Frierson repeats one of her favorite quotes from Fitzgerald: “The only thing better than singing, is more singing.” Fortunately for us, Frierson delivers on “more,” leaving us with renewed appreciation for music and stellar talent.
What other critics have to say:
No one knows where the development of Me and Ella will land as it’s a work in progress, growing and morphing. But its got style and substance and a talented group of eager creatives. And, more than that, it’s got the talented Andrea Frierson! — Sandi Durell, Theater Pizzazz
If you sink into to the rich arrangements and the stylings of Ms. Frierson, it is sure to be an evening filled with musical highlights. — Suzanna Bowling, Times Square Chronicle
Me & Ella
York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Avenue, NYC
Through July 23
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or Facebook.