CHICAGO TRIBUNE SPOTLIGHTS BLUES PREMIERE

Musical Tribute Highlights 3 Legends

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: A show about three of the most legendary singers debuts at Elgin Community College Nov. 14. "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues: A Salute to Ella, Judy and Patsy" premieres at 7 p.m. in the Blizzard Theatre at the college. It is described as "a torchy tribute that pays homage to three iconic singers, weaving their diverse voices into an inspiring portrait of America's musical heritage."

Karen Marie Richardson, whose credits include Off Broadway's "Sleep No More" and the national tour of Duke Ellington's opera "Queenie Pie," portrays jazz great Ella Fitzgerald. Angela Ingersoll, who gave Jeff Award-nominated performances in "The Mistress Cycle" and "The Secret Garden," takes on popular icon Judy Garland. Katie Deal, who has appeared in national tours of "Today, Tomorrow and Forever: A Tribute to Patsy Cline" and "A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline," becomes country legend Patsy Cline.

The show will feature all the hit songs, including "Cry Me a River," "The Man That Got Away," "Crazy" and more.

"It tells many different stories of each of the individual performers — Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Patsy Cline — and it takes people on a journey of their paths seemingly intersect in their stories," said Richardson, who splits her time between Bloomingdale and New York City. "And at one point, there is a pinnacle moment where they do meet in like a dream land. They meet and have a conversation, which is pretty powerful. What they have in common, in addition to the strains of their stories, is there is a particular song they have all recorded, and we're going to be doing that." (Fun fact: that song is "You Belong to Me.")

The show was conceived and written by Ingersoll. It is presented by Artists' Lounge Live, a concert series curated by her husband Michael Ingersoll. He is a member of Under the Streetlamp and a former "Jersey Boy."

"She came up with the idea to put these three dynamite vocalists, these dynamite powerhouse individuals who are legends, together," Richardson said. They met doing "The Mistress Cycle" together.

"We've done a couple of concerts with Michael Ingersoll and his group when they were getting their legs, and she reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in putting together my own Ella Fitzgerald show, because jazz is what I've been featured doing recently," she said. "They are wonderful; they're both dynamos and talented, and Michael's production skills are off the charts and amazing. Angela's not just simply a performer herself; she has many attributes. Her vocals are incredible, her acting is amazing and her writing takes you to another place. It takes you inside the minds of these individuals as they go through their life journeys."

The storyline takes audiences through the lives of these women, covering their back stories, loves and trials and tribulations, she said.

"It does touch on their deaths, but if we were to tell the stories of these individuals it would take an hour apiece or more," she said. "But it glides through each of their stories and shows their relevancy to one another."

Richardson said she has a lot in common with Fitzgerald, and looks forward to the chance to portray her.

"She was a late scatter, and I did not start scatting until the last six or seven years," she said. "She started scatting long after she started singing. She probably thought when she was getting up onstage that she was just singing to sing," she said. "She didn't know that she would make such an impact on music and on individuals far beyond her generation.

"For me, having an opportunity to help tell Ella Fitzgerald's story means that I'm also telling you a piece of my story as well," she said. "Although we did not have the exact same upbringing, we do have similarities in our music and countless people who believe in us that will continue to propel our careers."

For example, when Richardson started working at "Sleep No More" Off Broadway, she started working there as an usher. She worked in the box office and then in coat check, and that's where she met the producer of the show. She was able to audition for the show, and became the understudy for all of the singers. That led to her becoming one of the vocalists, a role she's had for four years now.

Her favorite Ella songs to sing are "It Don't Mean a Thing," "Summertime," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," she said.

"In general, singing jazz, and singing songs that Ella Fitzgerald helped make famous, makes my heart very happy," she said.

She thinks people of all ages and from all walks of life will enjoy this show, she said. The show is lighthearted and takes you on an unforgettable journey.

"In my mind, the goal is to bring back a sense of nostalgia to those that are aware of this time period, and to invoke new learning for younger people," she said. "For me, if I could just reach one young individual and get them to learn something new about someone they did not know about, then I've made an impact. They will start to do the research and start the conversations that will lead to better understanding music as a whole and also the music of Ella and Judy and Patsy."

Cover Photo: Artists Lounge Live / JPM Photography