On Stage: Hardly a Fish out of water

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By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Samantha Fish

If you’re prone to believing stereotypes, then you probably envision an older black male if someone referred to a veteran blues artist – that a young, white female blues veteran would be a fish out of water.

And, you’d be very wrong – especially if you consider Samantha Fish.

Samantha Fish, who is headlining a show on December 9 at the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com), is a veteran musician. She’s also a talented singer and an adept songwriter. But, more than anything, she’s a guitarist with roots in rock, blues and Americana.

Fish is touring in support of her latest album, “Belle of the West.”

“My previous album ‘Chills and Fever’ was done in Detroit and produced by Bobby Harlow,” said Fish, during a recent phone interview from her home in New Orleans. “That was a rock-and-roll/soul album with blues as its foundation.

“I moved to New Orleans from Kansas City nine months ago. Most or my band lives here – and it was just time for a change. New Orleans has a great vibe for songwriters.”

“Belle of the West” was recorded in late 2015 and produced by the North Mississippi AllStars’ Luther Dickinson at his father Jim Dickinson’s famed Zebra Ranch studio in Coldwater, Mississippi – an area located just south of Memphis. It was the same combination used for Fish’s “Wild Heart” album that came out in 2015.

“I wanted to use Luther’s place,” said Fish. “Some of my favorite musicians are in Mississippi. I love playing with Jimbo Mathis. We used a lot of female voices too. The album had more of an Americana vibe.

“‘Chills and Fever’ came out in March and ‘Belle of the West’ was released in November. We’ve been touring non-stopo all year. My band is a six-piece with horns and keyboards. We’ve been doing mostly songs from ‘Chills and Fever.’ Now, we’re looking at making a consistent set list with songs from both albums.”

Fish has music in her DNA.

“My dad played and my mom sang in church,” said Fish. “My dad’s friends all played music. They’d come over to our house and play. It was a social thing. My uncles played metal with heavy guitar. My dad’s friends played country-and-western and blues.

“I started with drums and did that for a couple years. I’m glad I did because it gave me the rhythmic foundation. When I picked up guitar – that’s when I started singing. Not long after, I started writing songs.

“Songwriting is something you have to work on if you want to learn how to write good songs. I still play songs today that I wrote when I was 20. My songs are rock, country and soul – all bluesy even though I’ve never written a standard blues song.”

Musical diversity has always been crucial for Fish – listening and playing.

“I listened to a lot of soul music — people like Otis Redding and Ray Charles,” said Fish. “I was also influenced by blues acts — especially North Mississippi blues — people like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough.

“With my guitar playing, I felt accomplished on guitar when I played as a trio and felt up to par. With a trio, there is no place to hide.”

“Currently, I’m playing with a six-piece band but it will be a seven-piece next tour with the addition of a violin player. I’ve been doing a trio my entire career – playing with a trio for a decade. I’ve always wanted to have a bigger band with lap steel and pedal steel. I could hear it when I was writing.

“The band I have now has two horns, keys, bass, drums and guitar. It was the right time to do it. It’s exciting because I can do other things. I can really focus on singing a little more. I’m just trying to do stuff that works best with the band I have.”

Video link for Samantha Fish – https://youtu.be/TRILQk5ydU0.

The show at Ardmore Music Hall, which has Louie Fontaine opening, will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.

In the long history of Broadway musicals, “My Fair Lady” is well-established as one of the all-time classics.

My Fair Lady

In March 2018, for the first time in 25 years, Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” returns to Broadway in a lavish new production from Lincoln Center Theater.

Area theater fans don’t have to wait three months or travel to New York to enjoy a production of the timeless musical because now through December 23, Quintessence Theatre Group is presenting its production of “My Fair Lady” at the Sedgwick Theater (7137 Germantown Avenue, Mount Airy, www.quintessencetheatre.org).

“My Fair Lady” tells the story Henry Higgins, a celebrated professor of phonetics, who makes a bet that he can pass off a lower-class flower girl from Covent Garden as a duchess at the Ambassador’s Ball. By dressing her in expensive clothing, improving her manners, and teaching her how to speak correctly, Higgins transforms Eliza Doolittle into a lady.

Following the Greek myth of Pygmalion, Higgins becomes enamored with his creation, now the most eligible lady in London. Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” with songs by Lerner and Loewe, “My Fair Lady” is known as “the perfect musical.”  Its theme of a woman overcoming enormous odds to gain her independence despite the machinations of a troubled genius is as applicable today as it was in 1912 when the play takes place.

The original 1956 production won six Tony Awards including Best Musical and ran for 2,717 performances, making it, at the time, the longest-running musical in Broadway history. The show features such classic songs as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “On the Street Where You Live.”

Leigha Kato

Leigha Kato plays the key role of Eliza in the Quintessence Theatre Group’s current production.

“I’m very familiar with ‘My Fair Lady,’” said Kato, during a recent phone interview. “I grew up with the show. I was seven when I first saw the movie. Eliza has always been my biggest dream role.

“She, like me, is very scrappy. She always has this strength in her. She is a prodigy and we try to incorporate that into our show. She becomes this fresh woman after Henry Higgins takes her on. I identify with her spunk.”

Playing the role of Eliza can be challenging for an actress.

“This production doesn’t have an orchestra – just two pianos,” said Kato, a native of Orange County, California who graduated from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

“Vocally, I can sing the part. But, it’s difficult because we don’t have mics. The acting part I feel really comfortable with. I definitely make it my own.

“Everyone is open to see what Quintessence is doing with it. Our adaptation is really cool and new and fresh. We’re doing it more in modern times. It’s actually set now. And, my Eliza is not as timid.”

Fans seem to always love “My Fair Lady,” whether it’s a classic stage performance, a movie or a modern adaptation.

“The music is really timeless,” said Kato. “I have certain memories with each of these songs. I like to think it hits memories with the audience. And , people love the story – the story of someone being able to find their strength in a new way.”

Quintessence Theatre Group’s production of “My Fair Lady” will run now through December 23 at the Sedgwick Theater. Tickets cost $18-$40.

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