When frank enjoyment of sex and a realistic (or, as the genteel say, cynical) attitude about it was officially forbidden to women, the monumental Sophie Tucker made herself a star with bawdy songs and earthy remarks. (The three ages of woman, she said, were, first, needing good looks to attract men, then a good personality, then a good bank account.)
When popular songs could make listeners cry, she slayed them with "My Yiddishe Mama" --but not in Paris. In 1931 there she was in mid-song when she heard a low, steady hiss ("Oy! I'm deflating!"), the prelude to an anti-semitic clamour that drove her from the theatre.
Chris Burgess's song-studded memoir is full of bad jokes, delivered very badly by a callow Michael Roulston as her pianist and various male no-goodniks, and while Sue Kelvin is a good belter, her manner - grinning madly and slapping her hip ineffectually - is often harsh or tentative. She is not, as Tucker was, awesome.
But she amusingly combines, as the best music-hall songs do, desperation and ridicule, wailing the lyrics of "Mr Segal, You Better Make It Legal". And the spirit of Sophie - robust, defiant - triumphs. "I Don't Want to Get Thin!" sings the first and last of the red-hot mamas, smugly announcing that her boyfriends all have skinny wives at home, and "I'm Living Alone and I Like It!", lifting her chin proudly and snapping her fingers at fate.
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