Journey of a Bombshell: The Ina Ray Hutton Story offers audiences a rare glimpse into the big band culture of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s — from a female bandleader’s perspective.
Written and performed by Melissa Ritz, Bombshell combines singing, dancing, and a variety of characters and monologues to tell Odessa Cowan’s (aka. Ina Ray Hutton) story. Born of mixed parentage and, thus, forced to hide her heritage, Odessa rises to fame as the leader of an all-women jazz band, which at the time was considered more a novelty than legit.
Actress Melissa Ritz offers a captivating performance, with fine singing and tapping; she also knows how to sell that swing with a seductive smile.
The impressive song list does not contain the familiar, but that doesn’t mean those tunes aren’t hopping: “When My Sugar Walks Down The Street,” “Struttin’ With The Ladies,” “Milkman Keep Those Bottles Quiet,” and “Knock Me a Kiss” are only a few of the dance tunes you’ll see Ms. Ritz croon as she struts her stuff.
The story Ms. Ritz tells is also engagingly presented and, even though the ending is way too abrupt and without a sense of climax, you’ll want a second act.
Directed by Julie Kline, who also worked on script development, Journey of a Bombshell also has a video component: historical footage of the real Ina. I only wish those images were a little less washed out by light.
The rest of the production team includes recorded music (arranged by Barry Best), with choreography by Tony Coppola and Shelby Kaufman, sound design by Janie Bullard, and voiceovers by Denis Butkis, Michael Laurence, John Maltese, and Matthew Whitfield.
There is no question that Journey of a Bombshell provides Ms. Ritz with the perfect theatrical vehicle, and its story is rich and engaging. If she finds a sharper, more dramatic ending, Ms. Ritz and Ms. Hutton will soar together.
Running Time: 75 minutes without an intermission.