Ella: Its 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, didnt 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 whats 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 Fitzgeralds 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.
Mahalia: The only large thing about M Ensemble company and its latest production, a gospel musical titled Mahalia, is Charlette Brown-Seward's voice. Despite the theater's physical limitations its seating capacity is approximately 60, and the stage is maybe seven feet deep this show is all glorious boom and little bust. And the small space works well with the broad and wondrous voice of Brown-Seward, who plays legendary soprano Mahalia Jackson. The show, which marks M Ensemble's season finale, takes us on a tour of a few pivotal events in Jackson's life. To help the audience focus on the action, the set is kept clean and minimal. One part history lesson, one part play, and two parts musical, Mahalia is a warm, inviting, and inclusive production. Although the historical timeline is informative and perhaps necessary at first, it feels slightly rushed and crammed-in postintermission, adding some unnecessary and unfortunate clunkiness to the performance. Indeed Mahalia is at its best when Brown-Seward belts 'em out. Wendy Doscher-Smith Through July 23. M Ensemble Actor's Studio, 12320 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami; 305-895-8955, www.themensemble.com.
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This Is How It Goes: A hit at New York's Public Theater in 2005, Neil LaBute's savage one-act play celebrates its Florida premiere at GableStage. Although Joseph Adler's direction is swift, the affair was a couple of rehearsals short of ready on opening night, and one of the trio of characters had trouble hitting his marks on time. Jeff Quinn's lighting appropriately mirrors the abrupt changes in the script, though it is a tad plodding, but Lyle Baskin's stage design falls victim to the temptation offered by the Biltmore's wide stage. It would spoil things to give away the plot's many twists, but it is meant to make one cringe, and the script calls for a heavy dose of mental cruelty; LaBute's characters are often as repugnant as they are ordinary. Octavio Roca Through July 23. GableStage at the Biltmore, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables; 305-445-1119, www.gablestage.org.