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‘Ella’ connects when focused on the music

“Ella,” which opened last week at the Guthrie Theater, is a tale of two plays.

In the first act, legendary singer Ella Fitzgerald travels back through her memories to tell her story, with songs in between. In the second act it’s almost all songs, ­ with occasional stories. In the end, it’s that second half, showcasing the considerable singing talents of Tina Fabrique, ­ that make the show a winner.

Even though local scribe Jeffrey Hatcher penned the book, “Ella” has played around the country on its way to the Twin Cities. The whole production is tight, from the performances by Fabrique and a hot four-piece band to the staging. Still, while Fitzgerald’s music was always thrilling, her life story isn’t filled with the kind of epic drama that powers the lives of so many artists. In the end, her memories and issues are not nearly as interesting as the music.

The music saves “Ella.” The two-hour show includes more than two-dozen standards, all presented in Fitzgerald’s signature style. Fabrique doesn’t just replicate the master’s style –­ though she is quite adept at scatting, a key for the role — ­ but inhabits the songs in a way all of her own. All of this makes the likes of “Night and Day,” “Blue Skies” and “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” fresh to the ears, and thrilling once more.

“Ella” runs through Sept. 6 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage, the Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis. Tickets are $29-$65. For tickets, call 612-377-2224 or visit online.

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