Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

First Lady of Song: Cherise Coaches Sings Ella Fitzgerald
Artists Lounge Live / Westport Country Playhouse
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Fred's review of Pride and Prejudice

Cherise Coaches
Photo by Ryan Bennett Photography
Westport Country Playhouse is presenting a quite entertaining First Lady of Song: Cherise Coaches Sings Ella Fitzgerald on its stage through November 5. The splendid performer, raised in Chicago and now living in Los Angeles, performs two hours of songs from Ella Fitzgerald's songbook backed by four highly coordinated jazz musicians, all of whom have roots in Chicago. The performance is produced by Artists Lounge Live, which was created by Michael and Angela Ingersoll. Angela has written and directed First Lady of Song for which Jo Ann Daugherty, Jason Ellis, and William Kurk provide band arrangements.

The musicians walk out first and are followed by the youthful Coaches. She talks a bit about herself in a brief biography segment which, frankly, could be either reconsidered or trimmed. It seems extraneous while one awaits the imminent Fitzgerald.

From the moment Coaches launches Ella, she scores with a melodic, versatile style and a voice that is flexible and has significant range: all to the good. "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" is an early winner. The artist intersperses her numbers with Ella narrative to provide some insight and linkage. We learn that Fitzgerald loved baseball and the Yankees and that she was homeless during the Depression. Coaches is then plaintive on the lovely "Misty."

Ella was just 17 when she performed at the Apollo Theater on Amateur Night, and that experience led her to the bandleader Chick Webb, who brought her to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Four years after the Apollo, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" enabled quick fame. Later on, producer Norman Granz, managing her career, was a formative influence.

Coaches sings a song or two, adds information about Ella, and resumes. All the while, the musicians are proactive, never missing a beat while adding depth to the texture of this presentation. Coaches, before the first hour concludes, performs renditions of familiar favorites such as "My Funny Valentine" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." She's terrific, with an impressive demonstration of scat singing.

Much to her credit, this performer does not make any attempt to imitate Ella Fitzgerald. She is Cherise Coaches who has studied Ella, knows the tunes, and delivers them in her own manner. Some of us have had difficulty watching individuals determined to emulate people such as Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong with less than favorable results. Fortunately, this Artists Lounge Live show avoids that pitfall.

The second set opens with a couple of takes on "Summertime," but the second go-round is far too bright and cheerful. Both Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone (two women who were not especially alike) have renditions of this classic George Gershwin / DuBose Heyward / Ira Gershwin song which are far more emotive and lacking in levity. There's the question of attribution: who decided to go with an up-tempo reprise of the song? We are not certain whether Angela Ingersoll or Cherise Coaches or someone else came up with this concept.

On the other hand, Coaches' version of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" is both pitch perfect and affecting. This one is surely a highlight of the evening and she has the vocal chops to move from one mode to the next handsomely. A singer/actress, Coaches' experiences on Broadway and in a national tour encourage poise and presence in front of a live audience. She is in the spotlight throughout and embraces that role.

You might wonder what it's like to have a kind of hybrid jazz concert performed at the Playhouse, which has been deservedly respected for decades of live theater. It does take some getting used to and, yes, a late night club setting might have been a tad more suitable. Still, after a few moments of adjustment, most observers will acquiesce because the leading lady and the unified jazzmen behind her most persuasively combine skill sets and musical training.

First Lady of Song: Cherise Coaches Sings Ella Fitzgerald runs through November 5, 2023, at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Ct., Westport CT. For tickets and information, please call 203-227-4177 or visit