You know her voice from singing the legendary theme to “Reading Rainbow” on TV. This month, Tina Fabrique stars in Mosaic Theater’s “Marys Seacole” through May 29th.
WTOP’s Jason Fraley previews ‘Marys Seacole’ (Part 1)
You know her voice from singing the legendary theme to “Reading Rainbow” on TV.
This month, Tina Fabrique stars in Mosaic Theater’s ‘Marys Seacole’ through May 29th.
“It’s about Mary Seacole,” Fabrique told WTOP. “This is her story about her life and work as a caregiver, but the other Marys also represent other women who have other things to deal with. Either way, every Mary does something in her life to enlighten herself and her connection that Mary Seacole is one you will see.”
Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Jackie Sibblies Drury, the story follows the incredible life of Mary Seacole, a British-Jamaican nurse who served in the Crimean War in the 1850s.
“She continued to learn about healing, nursing and her own medical practice,” Fabrique said. “She is a Jamaican British woman and her mother was the first to train her. She was around the time Florence Nightingale was at the scene, but because she was a black woman, she was not given carte blanche to go as a carer to help British soldiers who were wounded.”
Her story is very unique at a time when other people of color were enslaved.
“Her father was a Scottish soldier, her mother Jamaican, she was a free woman, that immediately puts her in a different mode for that time… 1850s, a black woman who got on a ship and went to another part of the US world, insurmountable danger, just being on one ship, being a woman alone, taking supplies with her…she was a real go-getter,” Fabrique said.
DC darling Kim Bey stars as Seacole in this regional premiere.
“She’s absolutely amazing,” said Fabrique. “She’s doing a great job.”
Meanwhile, Fabrique plays the ghostly role of Duppy Mary.
“The term ‘duppy’ is a Jamaican cultural reference to a ghost figure,” Fabrique said. “This spirit figure can take any form. It can be in an animal, of any kind [object] or person who wanted to enter it. The Duppy represents her mother, she comes back to settle some scores to make things right for all the Marys. … Duppy is quite vocal and has a lot to say.”
Her ghostly appearance is creatively directed by director Eric Ruffin.
“It’s the most wonderful costume design,” said Fabrique. “Moyenda Kulemeka gave me the most amazing dress and veil to match. … This is a beautifully produced piece. There are backgrounds, projections. … There are pieces on the projections that allow you to see what is going on in this time period. This game tips from one period to another. … It adds layers.”
Born in Harlem, Fabrique sang gospel in New York City before discovering theater.
“I sang in church and in nightclubs,” Fabrique said. “There was a woman, Rosetta LeNoire, who owned the Amas Musical Theater on 86th Street in Manhattan, who said to me in her mid-20s, ‘You should do more theatre, dear. You have a great voice and presence’…Once I took her advice and showed up for a couple of auditions, I never stopped working.”
Her prolific stage career includes Broadway shows such as Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Bring In The Noise, Bring In The Funk, Ragtime and The Glass Menagerie.
“I’ve done a few shows on Broadway,” Fabrique said. “I was just a working actor and I’ve had the great fortune and blessing to do some really good stuff.”
She’s most proud of playing Ella Fitzgerald in “Ella,” which came to the Arena Stage in DC
“I love the Washington crowd,” said Fabrique. “I did my Ella Fitzgerald Show here and it was just amazing. I performed “Ella” in local theaters for seven years. I found that everyone who remembered Ella Fitzgerald’s voice was curious about her as a person who had any memories of the wonderful, wonderful song list…they really loved the show.”
Still, Fabrique is perhaps best known for singing the theme to “Reading Rainbow” on TV.
“I have a grandson and he called me the other day and said, ‘You know, grandma, that your ‘reading rainbow’ [song] is on TikTok and trending now?’” Fabrique said. “I said, ‘Honey, what does that mean?’ Everyone used my version, the original that we did in a small studio no bigger than someone’s bathroom. It only took three takes and off we went.”
The show ran from 1983 to 2006 and won a Peabody Award and 26 Daytime Emmy Awards.
“The show won so many Emmys and did so well,” Fabrique said. “Every time I’ve had the chance to watch it, I’ve always been amazed at how they went down on the ground and did all these wonderful things to create interest in young people who were watching this show to keep reading. … I get all these wonderful messages about how the show and the music have made people really happy.”
WTOP’s Jason Fraley previews ‘Marys Seacole’ (Part 2)
Listen to our full conversation here.