Milwaukee Rep presents the songs of Ella Fitzgerald sung by award winner Alexis Roston

Milwaukee Rep presents the songs of Ella Fitzgerald sung by award winner Alexis Roston

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Alexis Roston says she started singing right after she was born.

“My mother claims that when I was born and the doctor slapped me on the tail and said, ‘It’s a girl,’ I was already wailing. Let her tell it.”

Alexis will be performing Ella Fitzgerald’s songs at the Quadracci Powerhouse in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater production “First Lady of Song.”

She has studied Ella’s vocal style, improvisation, tonality and essence. Alexis says she’ll bring the stories and personality of Ella to the stage, but that she’ll be singing Ella in her own way.

“I do add a little bit of what Ella went through but overall her songs are joy personified,” says Alexis. “People will come and have fun. It was smart of Milwaukee Rep to open with something that was fun, as opposed to hitting you in the face with something tumultuous.”

Jim Obos JaROPhotoMan@aol.com First Lady of Song: Alexis J Roston Sings Ella Fitzgerald
starring Alexis J Roston |Photo credit: JPM Photography

Alexis trained in musical theater at Howard University then built her career in Chicago, singing in the city for roughly 17 years. She’s performed Billie Holiday’s songs in Milwaukee Rep’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” winning numerous awards for her performance. She’s also won awards for her performances in national productions like “Don’t Make Me Over— A Tribute to Dionne Warwick.”

Alexis says that returning to the stage after the pandemic halted performances is a bit daunting.

“Coming back into it, I have to build up,” says Alexis. “When it comes to Ella’s music, I try to hydrate as much as possible. I physically start exercising while I’m singing because she has some very airy, breathy things to her style.”

(C)2014 {your name}, all rights reserved First Lady of Song: Alexis J Roston Sings Ella Fitzgerald
starring Alexis J Roston |Photo credit: JPM Photography

The production is a concert with elements of musical theater where Alexis speaks to the audience about Ella’s life and experience as a singer. Alexis may share stories like how Ella’s manager advocated for fair pay for not just Ella but for her entire band — something artists of color still have to advocate for today.

“You would think, in 2021, that those racist things that she had to endure, we wouldn’t,” says Alexis. “But it’s just in a different way, if you will. Racism is still alive and breathing. Unfortunately, we are still facing the same trauma that Ella may have had to face.”

While the audience will see the struggles Ella went through, Alexis emphasizes the joy that Ella brought to her songs. Alexis says that Ella had a playfulness with her singing style. Alexis thinks it’s because she enjoyed singing and performance to a point that it was her lifeline. 

Hear Alexis sing songs like “Summertime,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” at the Milwaukee Rep from April 27 to May 23.

The show will operate at reduced capacity and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater will be taking temperature checks and providing sanitizer. Masks are required and seating will be socially distanced.

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