For two weeks in 1956, American singer Ella Fitzgerald could be found performing at an upscale jazz club called Zardi’s on Hollywood Boulevard. Then one night during her two-week engagement, someone decided to make a live recording of her sweet, silvery voice.
The resulting record sat in a vault collecting dust for 60 years until 2017, when the 21-song album was released to the public.
That same album is the one Louise Messenger, an Adelaide-born but London-living jazz singer, pays homage to with her returning Fringe show Ella at Zardi’s.
For a little over an hour, the brassy redhead belts out songs including “Cry Me a River”, “Gone With the Wind”, “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “A Fine Romance”.
Huddled inside The Jade on Franklin Street on a warm weekend night is a crowd of all ages – there’s teenagers right through to the Baby Boomers.
Once on stage, Messenger tells the audience she’s here to pay tribute to the First Lady of Song, and she doesn’t want to be a pale imitation. She also cheekily reminds us she won’t always know all the words.
What follows is an hour that really whizzes past. Messenger delivers songs with full-throated authority, coming ever-so-close to Fitzgerald’s grand, life-altering voice.
She’s supported by a first-class back-up band. Messenger keeps in character as Ella, even referring to her band members as being from parts of the US. It really transports her listeners.
The singer also stokes audience participation right from the beginning. On the seat of every guest is an envelope containing instructions. Every row of the audience has a different song they have to yell out and request.
One of the evening’s charms is Messenger’s mother, Mary, who casually reminds people to open their envelopes and then cheers on her daughter from the seats up the back. She later says Louise always had a perfectly-tuned voice and was destined for great things.
While the audience follows the instructions to the tee, they also really get into the music. No piece of flooring is empty as all ages get up and dance to Messenger’s soothing tunes. It’s a sight to behold.
The Fringe seems so dominated by comedians that often it feels like some sort of Edinburgh Comedy Festival-lite. So it’s heartening that sleeper shows like Ella at Zardi’s manage to get back to the roots of what the Fringe is all about: solid shows that transport you to another world outside cosy old Adelaide.
I’m booking for next year.
Ella at Zardi’s is at The Jade until March 16.
Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.