Hayes Theatre Co, February 16
Sophie Tucker (or Sonya Kalish as she started life) was born on the side of the road in the Ukraine into a dirt-poor Jewish family, who eventually migrated to America.
Fedko Kryczko entered the world in a neighbouring village around the same time “in circumstances similarly shitty” as his great-granddaughter Marika Aubrey put it. As a young man, Fedko fled to Australia where Aubrey was later born.
In her new cabaret show The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, Aubrey tells Tucker’s story in a fairly straightforward, linear fashion but weaves through it the story of Fedko and her own visit back to his Ukrainian village.
It brings a nice personal element to the show, giving it another dimension, though in the end it adds little to Tucker’s story and means there is less time to document her life in any depth.
We learn of Tucker’s tough beginnings, the discovery of her voice while singing for tips in her father’s kosher restaurant, the start of her career performing “coon” songs in blackface, and her metamorphosis into the renowned, outrageous star of 1920s vaudeville, known for her comic chops and risqué songs. Nicknamed The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, she was still performing into her late 70s.
Aubrey starts the night in a black and white satin dress with jewellery, headdress and long gloves then gradually removes articles until she is performing in vintage underwear.
Backed by a three-piece jazz band led by Bev Kennedy on piano, she sings a good, varied selection of songs associated with Tucker, among them “Life Upon the Wicked Stage”, “After You’ve Gone”, “The Man I Love”, “Hello My Baby”, “Some of These Days”, “My Yiddishe Momme” and “Nobody Loves a Fat Girl, But Oh How a Fat Girl Can Love” – in which she showcases her own comic facility.
Aubrey has a big, clear singing voice, which she uses well. It’s higher pitched than Tucker’s husky, powerhouse instrument – something she addresses upfront with a quick, light-hearted aside to Kennedy about the key she’ll sing in.
She also has a big personality and commands the small space at the Hayes Theatre Co with ease. Her patter between the numbers is lively and she develops a warm rapport with the audience.
Inevitably, Aubrey is only able to skim the surface of Tucker’s life. What she tells us is fascinating but we are left feeling we’d like to know more. Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining show by an assured, engaging performer.
Produced by Aubrey and Neil Gooding Productions in association with the Hayes Theatre Co, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers has been playing as the first of the Hayes’s Month of Sundays cabaret series. If you want to catch it, you’ll need to get cracking as there’s just one show left.
The Last of the Red Hot Mamas has its final performance at the Hayes Theatre Co, Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point on Sunday March 2 at 8.30pm. Bookings: www.hayestheatre.com.au