Ella: It's ten years this month since songstress Ella Fitzgerald died. Fitzgerald, whose romantically distinctive voice has gently passed from generation to generation since her first recordings in 1936, didn't so much have her own songs but rather made anything she sang an Ella experience. In the past year, Florida Stage has boldly sent up the Andrews Sisters and Judy Garland in similar musical bios, so the company clearly maintains positive support and a sturdy infrastructure for such creations. The nervous question as you take your seat is, then: What person can possibly inhabit Ella Fitzgerald for the next two hours? Did they call in a ringer? The answer is yes, and no, in Tina Fabrique, who is strong, dynamic, and engaging. Fabrique delivers a rich cabaret of Fitzgerald songs. In this sense, Fabrique is a ringer, seemingly the leading Ella impersonator around. Between studio session numbers, Fitzgerald does what's expected, laying out her life in a series of prosaic true confessions. You know the drill the humble beginnings, the lousy marriages, the ups and downs, the sins and the penances. Through this expiation, you learn some useful facts. But what goes through your head most during Ella is that as good as Fabrique and her band are and they are excellent missing is the indefinably distinct charisma of Fitzgerald's darling voice. It was a once-in-a-century voice. Dave Amber Through September 3. Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan; 561-585-3433.
The Mystery of Irma Vep: Crisply directed by David Arisco, its costumes magically engineered by the sensational Mary Lynne Izzo, and gleefully performed by the comically gifted John Felix and Tom Wahl, The Mystery of Irma Vep is a delirious descent into madness that sticks to the ribs and never lets go. The comedy outrageously lampoons Victorian thrillers of the late Nineteenth Century, even as it pilfers liberally from film classics like Wuthering Heights, The Mummy's Curse, and Rebecca. With its ricochet repartee, the delightfully bawdy romp also makes mincemeat of Shakespeare, Wilde, Ibsen, Poe, and a Dickens-size cast of characters. Written in 1984 by the late Charles Ludlum, who founded New York City's Ridiculous Theatrical Company, the campy farce features veteran locals Tom Wahl and John Felix in top-flight form, portraying all of the play's eight characters. With more than 40 costume changes in about 90 minutes, the actors zip from character to character with a hairpin precision that defies description. Watching Wahl exit through one door as Enid and then return within seconds as Nicodemus left me dazed, in stitches, and wondering how the actor keeps track of which head he had screwed on between scenes. It's a gut-tickling quick-change riot rife with werewolves, vampires, an airhead in distress, and a whack-job mummy merchant who nearly steals the show. Carlos Suarez De Jesus Presented through September 3 by Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-444-9293, www.actorsplayhouse.org.
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