For vaudeville aficionados Tucker was the quintessential Red Hot Momma, larger than life in personality and person, a Jewish Immigrant’s daughter who worked her way up and sacrificed all for success. A career woman in a time of traditional values, she suffered humiliation and scorn but overcame all the obstacles to rise to the top of her profession.
Sophie Tucker's One Night Stand is one of a series of revue shows becoming the staple fodder of small fringe venues. Like others in its ilk – I’m reminded of another King’s Head show, Merman, also Lady Day at Emmerson’s Bar and Grill - the format is simple with the great lady and her accompanist telling the story of her life.
The piece sits well in the King’s Head’s oldy-worldy setting and Sue Kelvin is vivacious as Tucker, she also reveals an impressive vocal strength and commands the stage with the confidence of a born Diva. As her loyal accompanist, Micahel Roulston also takes on a multitude of roles from Tucker’s past, from father to husbands and employers. This simple comic device does well to show another dimension to the woman as we witness her in more vulnerable situations.
Despite a heavy-handed sound montage which opens the show, the evening manages to avoid sentimentality and creates an authentic atmosphere of times gone by. It’s a shame then that when Tucker talks about her first job – where she was blacked up minstrel style in a touring show – she all but apologises to the audience; this politically correct insertion brings us right back to 2006, albeit momentarily.
Writer Chris Burgess peppers the piece liberally with witty one-liners one presumes are direct quotes from the big lady herself. His and the performers' affection for Tucker shines through in this portrayal of a person with a huge appetite for life, love and success.
If cabaret shows are to your taste then you should feast on this chance to see the “Last of the Red Hot Mommas” and savour delicious renditions of Gershwin and Berlin amongst others. It’s only the price tag of £18 that you may find hard to stomach.
- Hannah Kennedy