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“Crowd-pleasing riches. . . A pleasure!  Red Hot Mama delivers!”  — New York Times

Red Hot Mama

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Written and performed by Tony Nominee Sharon McNight

$35 in advance / $40 at the door  General admission
$25 in advance / $30 at the door  Youth 21 and under
$9 (Advance sales only)  Jr and high-school students (Jan 6 only)
$70 in advance / $75 at the door  New Year's Eve general admission
$60 in advance / $65 at the door  New Year's Eve youth 21 and under
Just added!  Saturday, January 28 at 2pm

RED HOT MAMA – The Sophie Tucker Story is the story of the first lady of show business, the “Last of the Red Hot Mamas”, whose remarkable career spanned sixty years.  It contains the music and history of burlesque, vaudeville, Broadway, and Las Vegas in a critically acclaimed one-woman musical biography of the entertainment legend, written by and starring Sharon McNight, and featuring over two dozen songs made famous by Tucker, including composers Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Henderson, DeSylva, & Brown, and her 1928 million record seller, Jack Yellen’s “My Yiddishe Mama”.

Red Hot Mama was developed by Tony Nominee Sharon McNight at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts,  Lucille Lortel’s White Barn Theatre, and Santa Fe Stages before playing Off-Broadway for three months.

Spend New Year’s Eve with Red Hot Sophie in her Cinnabar Speakeasy
Dress in 20s garb (and maybe even win a prize!)
Enjoy desserts specially-prepared by our staff from period recipes
Drink champagne and fine wines (no host)
Delight in a post-show Q&A with “Sophie” and gang
Toast in the New Year with champagne, noise makers and your Cinnabar friends

Generously underwritten by Executive Producers Karen and Mike Bergin of Bergin Glass with Sponsor Circle Members Janet & Lewis Baer, Maureen Reed and Janet Roselle, Clyde & Kim Schultz, and Buffington Clay-Miller


Sophie Tucker

Sharon McNight*


Richard Riccardi

New Year's Eve: Nancy "Rudy" Hayashibara


Jan Martinelli


John Shebalin


Stage Director

Sharon McNight

Set Designer

Wayne Hovey

Costume Designer

Sharon McNight

Lighting Designer

Vince Mothersbaugh

Stage Manager

Ross Tiffany Brown

Stage Assistants

Sandy Riccardi, Tracey Loftis

* Appears courtesy of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional stage actors and stage managers in the United States

Sophie Tucker in Honky Tonk 1928Sophie Tucker was a powerful presence in American entertainment for nearly sixty years. Not only was she physically imposing, but she also had a powerful, distinctive voice. Her particular strength was the ‘naughty song’ delivered with such gusto that many commentators began to categorize her as ‘a force of nature’. At a Command performance in 1935, she looked up at the Royal Box, waved and cried, “Hiya, King!”
There was a private Sophie Tucker — an inner person with cares and heartaches and hopes and dreams that didn’t appear on stage. It was a long way from the farmlands of Eastern Europe where Sophie was born (while her Mother was on the way to America) to the glittering nightclubs and the vaudeville palaces of the United States. She started poor and made herself rich by hard work as well as talent. She made herself the financial head of her family — providing for her parents as well as for her brothers and sister.
Sophie suffered a good deal in her early years because she was ‘fat and ugly’. She married three times; but none lasted. The “boyfriend Ernie” never existed. She gave birth to her only child while still a teenager, and then suffered years of ostracism by the Jewish community in her hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, because they disapproved of her decision to leave her son in the care of her family to go into show business.
After a fifteen-dollar-a-week job, singing up to a hundred songs a night at a rathskeller, and as a blackface singer (“coon-shouter”), she clicked at Tony Pastor’s restaurant. This resulted in a tour with a burlesque circuit during which she met a fellow rising star, Fanny Brice, thus beginning a lifelong friendship. Marc Klaw, of the theatrical firm of Klaw and Erlanger, spotted Sophie and talked to Ziegfield into using her in the “Follies of 1909″. At the Atlantic City tryout, her three numbers were greeted with huge ovations, infuriating star Nora Bayes. When the show finally made it to New York, she was limited to only one number. Her recording career began in 1910 with Thomas Edison’s company, making two minute cylinders, and ended mid-fifties with “philo-sophie” songs and risque hits, i.e. “Mr. Siegel, Make It Legal”.
She signed with booking agent William Morris whose agency represented her until her death in 1966. She played the Keith Circuit, vaudeville’s aristocracy, in 1913, and the fabled Palace in New York City in 1914. But it took as much energy to stay on top as it did to get there. Silent movies were already beginning to erode vaudeville’s power.
Sophie changed her act in 1916, and began to appear with a jazz band behind her called The Five Kings of Syncopation. In 1921, she disbanded the group, and interviewed a tall, thin youth named Ted Shapiro. Their musical relationship lasted for forty-five years.
Radio was coming in and more vaudevillians left the stage for this new medium. Sophie continued to play nightclubs and go on foreign tours. In 1927, “The Jazz Singer” brought sound to movies, and the eventual demise of vaudeville. Vaudeville ended, for Sophie at least, with the Palace fire of 1932. She was on stage, when a short circuit caused flames to burst out backstage. The headline read “Red Hot Mama’s Song So Hot, Palace Burns”.
Essentially a vaudeville headliner, Sophie broke into the legitimate theater with “Marry Mary” and “Louisiana Lou”, both in 1911. “Hello, Alexander” (1919) put her name on a legit marquee, and she spiced up revues such as “Shubert Gaieties” (1919) and “Earl Carroll’s Vanities” (1924). She co-starred with Jack Hulbert in London in “Follow A Star” (1930) and her big Broadway smash was Cole Porter’s “Leave It To Me!” (1938), with William Gaxton, Victor Moore, and youngsters Mary Martin and Gene Kelly, plus George Jessel’s “High Kickers” (1941). In film, she starred in “Honky Tonk” (1928), and had lead roles in “Gay Love” (GB-1934), “Broadway Melody of 1937″ as Judy Garland’s mother, and “Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry” with Garland/Rooney (1937), “Follow the Boys” (1944), “Sensations of 1945″, and played herself in “The Joker Is Wild” (1957), starring Frank Sinatra. As a nightclub headliner, she played the Chez Paree, Chicago; Latin Quarter, NYC; Ciro’s, Los Angeles; Venetian Room, San Francisco; and in 1944, was the first headliner to play The Last Frontier in a desert hamlet called Las Vegas.
Sophie Tucker was a magnificent entertainer, a luckless gambler, a generous friend, a tireless trouper, an unforgettable character, . . . truly the last of the Red Hot Mamas.

McNightSharon McNight (Creator, Director, Designer and Performer) made her Broadway debut in 1989 in “Starmites”, creating the role of Diva. She received a Tony award nomination as “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” for her performance, and is the recipient of the coveted Theatre Worlds Award for “Outstanding Broadway Debut”. New York magazine’s John Simon said “Sharon McNight is a winner” and Al Hirschfeld did a caricature of her. The singer/comedienne’s regional credits include Amanda McBroom’s “Heartbeats” at the Pasadena Playhouse, and an award winning Dolly in “Hello, Dolly” at the Peninsula Civic Light Opera (a role she repeated in her hometown, Modesto). Sharon was Sister Hubert in “Nunsense” in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where she received the Bay Area Critics Circle award for “Best Performance in a Musical”. She is the narrator of the documentary, “There That Night,” the story of the Provincetown, Massachusetts fire, and was featured in the A & E documentary, “It’s Burlesque”, for her research on Mae West and Sophie Tucker.
McNight began her career is San Francisco where she received her Master of Arts degree in directing from San Francisco State. She taught at City College of S.F.. has been a master teacher at the Eugene O’Neill Center and is currently on the faculty of the Cabaret Conference at Yale University. She was recently chosen as one of the 50 most influential people in cabaret for 2010: – “A tireless performer who will drop everything to perform in any benefit with a cause, the Tony-nominated McNight can sing anything and make it her own” –
She has played from Moose Hall to Carnegie Hall and anywhere the check doesn’t bounce. She has won six San Francisco Cabaret Gold awards, 3 Cable Car awards, a MAC award, a Bistro award, and received a Nightlife award from New York’s critics for her Best Musical Comedy show, “Ladies, Compose Yourselves!”, featuring songs by “living” female composers. Other shows include “Betty, Betty, Bette”, celebrating the screen legends Grable, Hutton & Davis; “Songs To Offend Almost Everyone”, a throwback to the party records of the 50’s mixed with political and social satire; “Gone, But Not Forgotten”, a tribute to the late ladies of stage & screen – Merman, Martha Raye, Madeline Kahn, Patsy Cline, & Judy Garland. In contrast is “The Sophie Tucker Songbook” which contains the music of the one-woman show based on the show business legend. The “Songbook” debuted at New York’s Rainbow & Stars as part of the ASCAP Sunday night showcase. Since then, she developed it into a one-woman musical, “Red Hot Mama”, which was workshopped at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and Lucille Lortell’s White Barn Theatre, and finished a successful three month run Off-Broadway at the York Theatre.
She has six solo recordings to her credit. Her eclectic repertory ranges from blues to country (yes, she yodels) to good old-fashioned entertainment. The Los Angeles Times call her “one of the great wonders of the musical stage”. She is most noted for her movie reenactment of The Wizard of OZ and for being one of the few real women to impersonate Bette Davis.
As an only child, her parents kept her busy with all kinds of lessons: ballet, tap, hula, social dancing, flute and piano. She is single and lives in Hollywood. She has been the forefront in the fight against AIDS since the early eighties, and was featured in Randy Shilt’s book “And The Band Played On”. She was chosen twice as the honorary chair of the San Francisco AIDS Emergency Fund, and was one of two heterosexual women chosen as the Grand Marshall of San Francisco’s Gay Parade.
Sharon says the greatest day of her life was the day she quit smoking.

Martinelli A native San Franciscan, Jan Martinelli (bass) has toured and performed with dozens of bands and artists at major festivals, performance halls and clubs throughout the United States. Known for her stylistic range from Latin, jazz, and funk to blues and folk, her soulful approach to the bass can be heard on more than 30 CDs and albums. Jan was an original member of the Bay Area’s popular Wild Mango, a seven-piece world jazz ensemble. She appeared on the cover of Southwest’s inflight magazine Spirit, in a feature article “Women & Jazz,” and has played major jazz festivals such as Aspen, Barbados, Monterey, San Francisco, San Jose, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Jan is currently a member of several Bay Area bands and toured with Holly Near in 2013. She performed previously on the Cinnabar stage in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies, and appears here with Holly Near on January 22nd.

RiccardiRichard Riccardi (piano) has played for such megastars as Tom Jones, Joel Gray, Martha Raye, Diahann Carrol, Clark “Mumbles” Terry, Wesla Whitfield, Pinchas Zuckerman, and Dame Janet Baker. He is thrilled to add cabaret legend, Sharon McNight, to that list. He was the associate conductor for the Third National Broadway Tour of Annie. He has played with the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet and frequently plays movie and game soundtracks with the Skywalker Symphony at Skywalker Ranch.

ShebalinJohn Shebalin (drums) began playing orchestral percussion and drum set at nine years of age. He holds a BA in Music from UCSC (2008), where he studied under George Marsh, and an MFA in Jazz Performance from CalArts (2010), where he was mentored by Joe LaBarbera.Since then, John has recorded with several ensembles: Radio Mystery, A Perfect Alibi; James Brandon Lewis, Moments; and the Brian Havey Trio, Residence. He has worked as a studio musician for Prarie Sun Records and for independent labels, recording everything from jazz to industrial percussion. John has performed with Cinnabar several times, including Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies. He currently teaches privately throughout Sonoma County.

Though one of the greatest stars of her day, Sophie Tucker has sadly been mostly forgotten in the 21st century. With vaudeville and burlesque seeming as antique as steam trains and hand-crank phones, you’re about as likely to find a Sophie Tucker fan under 30 as you are to find someone over 60 with a Snapchat account. Fortunately for the memory of Ms. Tucker, Sharon McNight is doing all she can to keep the legend alive, bringing her one-woman show Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story to Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater.
Red Hot Mama not only stars McNight, it was written and directed by the veteran cabaret star, who takes her audience on a journey of memory through the life of the “last of the red hot mamas” (as Tucker was known), from her beginnings in the Russian Empire where, as Tucker puts it, “I was born in 18 … noneofyourbusiness,” through her long career on the stage, screen and radio. Along the way, McNight treats the audience to more than 20 of the songs Tucker performed over her long and illustrious career, including “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” “(My) Yiddishe Momme,” and “If Your Kisses Can’t Hold the Man You Love (Then Your Tears Won’t Bring Him Back).”
The show is also packed with some of Tucker’s bawdy quips and digs at her three ex-husbands and her desire to remain unattached: “I already have one asshole in my pants!” McNight is the perfect person to honor Sophie Tucker. Her big voice is so brassy it could probably stand in for all 76 trombones—and McNight imbues Tucker with the emotional brass to go with it. Tucker was a proto-feminist: a confident, outspoken, independent woman who always stood up for herself. And ahead of her time: when Tucker sang “I Don’t Want to Get Thin,” she forged a path Meghan Trainor would travel 85 years later with her hit “All About That Bass.”
[McNight] is perfectly at ease on stage and there’s never a time when you’re thinking about her performance. She keeps you instead enthralled in the world of Sophie Tucker. Her sass and attitude (and multiple costume changes) envelop her audience in an atmosphere of good-natured bawdiness of the sort that would be banned in Boston. –Talkin’ Broadway


When the curtain parts, there stands a brassy, classy dame who grabs your attention and keeps it right where she wants it. Tony-award winning nominee Sharon McKnight stands center stage, soaking up the audience’s love and laughter as she reincarnates the tough-talking icon of early entertainment, Sophie Tucker. It’s Sophie’s spotlight, and she’s having a ball.
Sophie Tucker’s performing career had a phenomenal 60-year run, from recording on Thomas Edison’s scratchy cylinders in 1910 through shows at burlesque houses, vaudeville, and the Ziegfield Follies. In later years she recorded on radio and made several films. McKnight, who created the solo show, channels Sophie’s larger-than-life stage presence and powerful voice, needing no microphone to fill the high-ceilinged theater. Edison once told Sophie “You could audition in New York and never leave your home in Connecticut.” He probably would have said that to McKnight, too.
Sophie worked hard and long, performing a brutal schedule to support herself and her family. She was onstage with other legends as rising young stars, including Gene Kelly, Mary Martin and Fanny Brice, the original “Funny Girl.”
“Red Hot Mama” is a historical glimpse of how Sophie adapted to changing tastes in entertainment, carving out a spot as the solidly built Yiddish singer with gusto in her voice and naughty lyrics in her delivery. She reveals snippets of her ethnic upbringing and failed marriages, which lend a rich tapestry of hope amidst the disappointments. Sophie belts out dozens of songs, including “The Man I Love” and “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” before admitting “If your kisses can’t hold him, your tears won’t bring him back.”
This perfectly-paced 90-minute show lets the audience experience belly laughs and groans as the trio (pianist Richard Riccardi, Bassist Jan Martinelli, and drummer John Shebalin) heckle Sophie in classic vaudeville style. At certain points in this show, the audience joins in a sing along when the screen displays lyrics to charming classics, including “Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines, Nellie” and “Ain’t She Sweet.”
Of course, Sophie Tucker was never sweet, she was all spice, with lots and lots of pepper.
“Red Hot Mama” is a show suitable for all ages, although references to notables like Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin and songs like the “Darktown Strutter’s Ball” may go unappreciated by youngsters. Sophie Tucker’s story is particularly wonderful for all who love a walk down memory lane. Oh, and today’s fans of Bette Midler will quickly spot how much influence Sophie Tucker had to have on the multi-talented Midler’s brash persona.   –Novato Advance

Sophie Tucker defied the expectations of her time, pursuing a theater career instead of staying at home to care for her son, attacking challenges and overcoming them, and taking the entertainment world by storm as a big, beautiful woman who was proud of it, a sentiment immortalized in “I Don’t Want to Get Thin.” She was unapologetically passionate, pouring her fiery personality into bawdy songs that shocked 20th century audiences. Tony award nominee Sharon McNight steps into those glittering and formidable shoes with an engaging one woman musical filled with dozens of classic Sophie Tucker songs, repartee with the audience, and vignettes set in various dressing rooms, recreated by scenic designer Wayne Hovey, including a run down theater scrawled with graffiti on peeling paint.
Cinnabar has been transformed into an atmospheric cabaret; Red Hot Mama encourages audience participation, from McNight’s flirtatious quips to sing-alongs projected in silent film era inspired cards above the stage. It is an ideal introduction to theater, or for an intimate romantic evening enjoying McNight’s glorious voice belting out memorable pieces such as “Hula Lou”, “If Your Kisses Can’t Hold the Man You Love (Then Your Tears Won’t Bring Him Back)” and “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love”. Tucker worked with legendary composers: Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George & Ira Gershwin, and Harry M. Woods to name a few. She was in the forefront of new movements, recording wax cylinders with Thomas Edison, appearing in “talkies” as early as 1929, and was so popular as a vaudeville artist that she gave a command performance for King George V at the London Palladium. She was known for dazzling gowns and orchids, recreated in a lovely array by costume designer Patti Whitelock, concluding with Tucker’s trademark furs and feathers for the finale.
Sharon McNight captures Tucker’s powerful presence, mingling it with vulnerable moments through her life—discovering the death of her mother, and contemplating the early days of Tucker’s career that were a difficult struggle. She deftly changes focus to include everyone in the audience, shifting between sides of the stage, and calling out to the far back to make sure they feel part of the experience. Jan Martinelli (bass) and John Shebalin (drums) act as accompaniment and comedic foils. Richard Riccardi portrays her pianist and music director Ted Shapiro. McNight’s story has a steady flow to it, interspersing background on Sophie Tucker with musical numbers. The denouement is rather awkward in its construction; the audience was not sure when the final applause was meant to take place. This is perhaps a reflection on what Tucker herself used to offer, but without that context it remains confusing.
Red Hot Mama: The Sophie Tucker Story embodies the glamour and delightfully risqué music of the beloved entertainer, while offering insights into Sophie Tucker’s history through Sharon McNight’s well researched and candid portrayal. For a spirited evening with a powerful woman of show business, visit Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma to meet Sophie Tucker. –Imagination Lane

Sharon McNight as Sophie Tucker.

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Sharon McNight as Sophie Tucker.

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Sharon McNight as Sophie Tucker.

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Sophie Tucker: “Red Hot Remedy”

Sophie Tucker in Honky Tonk 1928

Photo Courtesy Sharon McNight

New Year’s Eve Gala:
Spend New Year’s Eve with Red Hot Sophie in her Cinnabar Speakeasy!

Dress in 20s garb (and maybe even win a prize!)
Enjoy desserts specially-prepared by our staff from period recipes
Drink champagne and fine wines (no host)
Delight in a post-show Q&A with “Sophie” and gang
Toast in the New Year with champagne, noise makers and your Cinnabar friends

Doors open at 9pm / Curtain at 9:30

Tickets: $70 for adults / $60 for youth 21 and under

Banner photo Sharon McNight as Sophie Tucker (photo courtesy Sharon McNight)