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‘Ella’ Opens at MetroStage

Freda Payne portrays Ella Fitzgerald in the MetroStage production of “Ella,” playing now through March 16.

Freda Payne portrays Ella Fitzgerald in the MetroStage production of “Ella,” playing now through March 16. Photos Contributed

“Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song” opens this week at MetroStage. It is the story of young Ella literally dancing in the streets and winning a talent contest at the Apollo Theatre when she was 15 years old. She headlined with Chick Webb and his Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom, performed Live at the Cote D’Azur and so much more. She discovered that she could “scat” and mastered a new art form called “bebop.” It is a fascinating journey of a legendary artist.

MetroStage has a certain fondness for female singers, particularly ones with interesting backgrounds and great distinctive voices. You might recall past seasons when you experienced Mahalia, Alberta Hunter, Billy Holiday, Mabel Mercer, Sarah Vaughan and Pearl Bailey. And now for the next eight weeks: Ella Fitzgerald.

Not only is the story of Ella being performed on our stage but it is being played by the legendary artist and performer Freda Payne. Since 1970 Freda has been performing on stages around the world but will always be associated with her ’70s hit “Band of Gold.” According to director Maurice Hines, Freda has the voice that is closest to Ella’s, and of all the singers today, it is Freda who most closely embodies Ella’s unique vocal quality.

Helping Ella tell her story on stage will be her cousin and traveling companion Georgiana. Georgiana will be played by Roz White, a well-known favorite of MetroStage fans. There is also the very interesting story of her manager Norman Granz. Granz systematically began to desegregate performing venues so that Ella could perform in them and actually founded Live at the Philharmonic. Norman is being played by Tom Wiggin, an Alexandrian who has returned after 10 years in daytime television playing the role of Kirk Anderson in “As the World Turns,” along with Broadway and regional credits as well. Wynonna Smith completes the cast as young Ella and younger sister Frances.

And, of course, a MetroStage production would not be complete without William Knowles playing piano and conducting our renowned musicians playing drums, bass, trumpet and sax.

See you at the Savoy.

“Ella” is playing now through March 16 at MetroStage. For tickets or more information call 703-548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.