Adelaide Cabaret Festival – Marika Aubrey: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas

 The life of Sophie Tucker is not the most familiar story. Marika Aubrey, in The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, masterfully revives the music, the comedy and the life of the stentorian performer in a personal and powerful cabaret contribution.

Marika Aubrey. Image by Blueprint Studios
Marika Aubrey. Image by Blueprint Studios

The ‘Last of the Red Hot Mamas’ began her life as Sonya Kalish in a small village in Ukraine. Her family adopted the name Abuza upon immigration to America and after marrying she became Sonya Tuck. With three different names before her 18th birthday, she finally settled on Sophie Tucker and, with this name, she became one of the most popular performers of the early 20th century.

The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, with largely unfamiliar subject matter and songs, had the potential to be a confusing and labourious cabaret experience. Thankfully Aubrey’s show well and truly exceeded all expectations. The combination of a formidable voice and stellar acting drew the audience forever closer, and is a major draw card.

Aside from that voice, Audrey’s writing is the show’s greatest attribute. Not only does The Last of the Red Hot Mamas delve into the speakeasies of yesteryear, but Aubrey also reveals a real and emotional ancestral connection; a paralleling life with the 1920s sensation. Aubrey dances effortlessly between a number of characters, and this aspect of the performance is truly engaging.

The music, with Geoffrey Castles leading the polished Five Kings of Syncopation, is brilliant. Aubrey’s comic performance of ‘Nobody Loves a Fat Girl, but Oh How a Fat Girl Can Love’ is a crowd highlight, and her audience interaction greatly enhances the experience.

In the large part, the design aspects of The Last of the Red Hot Mamas were of a very high quality. The use of space, lighting, props and sound were all well conceived. The costumes however were a little underwhelming. The twenties were a period of great glamour but we never reached great heights (the band however, all looked quite swish).

Aubrey’s candid patter is appreciated, particularly the insight into her creative process. A big thank you to Kate Ceberano and Google for facilitating the creation of Marika Aubrey’s The Last of the Red Hot Mamas. 

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