Goodspeed by the River, East Haddam, CT
Ambassador Of Love: Celebrating Pearl Bailey.
Directed by T. Oliver Reid. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"Two to Tango"
Like the song says, "it takes two. . ." and for this show to work it takes two pairs of two, not just one. There has to be someone who adores Pearl Bailey and Pearl Bailey herself and there needs to an interpreter of Bailey's material and a second person to accompany her in just the right way. For Goodspeed's simple but effective "Ambassador of Love: Celebrating Pearl Bailey" both duos are on the small stage under a tent. Both love-fests center around a woman whose name has just become a byword: Rashidra Scott. Pearl Bailey was as much a personality as she was a singer and her unique styling of a song mattered as much as the song. She was also a mentor to many artists in a variety of fields. I suspect that if she met Ms. Scott she would have gladly mentored her but there would really be no need for that as Rashidra Scott is her own woman, a consummate singer and reader of the songs she chooses to sing. In this case all twenty-one of them have moved over from Pearly Mae to Rasidra without effort and to great effect.
Musical Director Michae O. Mitchel plays ShowBiz/Jazz piano beautifully and he not only accompanies Ms. Scott but provides little verbal asides that put us, sylistically, into the 1950's. He make us think of Fats Waller and other Black musicians of the period who couldn't restrain themselves from involving their commentary with the vocalist's refrains. His additions to the songs make them just that much more special, especially when Scott is doing the same thing.Turning solo ballads, blues and theater songs into conversations was a feature of Bailey's work and this extra-special trubute to her performing experience makes this show a rare sort of adventure. I cannot think of anyone today who augments a song in this manner and this makes this one hour and four minute nightclub turn into a mini-musical all its own.
Number six in her set is the song "It Takes Two to Tango," a song that saw Pearl Bailey's recording rise to number four on the pop music charts back in 1952. It was her second chart-buster, with her 1946 recording "Fifteen Years (and I'm Stil Serving Time"" rising to number four on the R&B tracks chart. Scott performs both songs to perfection in this show. She mixes these popular songs with songs from Bailey's many Broadway shows (she appeared in eight shows) but none of her films (Bailey was in eleven of these).
Rasheedra Scott: Photo: provided
Bailey was a star in theater, movies, television, clubs and on recordings. Her stylings were imitated often but no one could ever touch her insouciance. I must confess a connection: Pearlie Mae was a friend of my grandmother (I never learned exactly how) and when I took my grandmother to see her in "Hello, Dolly!" we went back to her dressing room afterward. She kept us with her for almost an hour, then signed a Dolly photo for my Gran and spelled her name wrong on it. My grandmother didn't care. Bailey's enthralling charm is easily seen in Ms. Scott's performance which is never an imitation of Pearl Bailey. Instead she pays tribute to her life in music and to her personal achievements of which there were many. She keeps away from Bailey's politics and concentrates instead on her breakthrough personality.
Scott sings over twenty-one songs and seems to fill an hour and a half in just over an hour that is both magical and musical. The show has a limited run but gives you an unlimited amount of memories, old and new and endears Rashidra Scott as Bailey once did all those years ago.
+ 06/28/2021 +
Pearl Bailey; Photo: provided
Ambassador of Love: Celebrating Pearl Bailey continues through July 18 atGoodspeed Musicals, in East Haddam, CT. For information and tickets call 860-873-8668 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.