Aurora Fox: Hi-Hat Hattie

The first thing you see when you approach the Aurora Fox Arts Center is their gorgeous, 61-foot marquee from the 1940s.

Dan and I had a chance to visit this lovely theatre for a matinee performance of Larry Paar’s Hi-Hat Hattie. The ~250-seat venue has maintained many beautiful details of its history as a movie house, including these seats I couldn’t stop ogling. (At the pre-show welcome, the Fox’s Beau Bisson thanked the city for its support, saying “without the city, this theatre would be a parking lot.” A great reminder about the importance of historical preservation.)

Hi-Hat Hattie is the story of Hattie McDaniel, a woman whose name I’ll admit to not recognizing before the performance. A few reasons you should know her:

  • She was the first African-American female to sing on the radio
  • She was the first African-American to win an Academy Award (Mammy, Gone with the Wind)
  • She appeared in over 300 films

Aurora Fox’s Hattie is a one-woman show starring Anna High (plus one wonderful pianist, Jodel Charles), tracing McDaniels’ career through her own voice. The play is set up as a two-act cabaret, regularly threading in musical numbers important to Hattie’s story, including “Danny Boy” and “Old Man River.”

Anna Maria High is a steadfast as Hattie — the first act alone calls for an hour of her belting and vamping, laughing and crying, winning and losing. There are boas to drape, suitcases to schlep, and, naturally, quite a few hats to sport. At one point, High sings both sides of a duet. She carries it all with warmth.

I found the story to be overly saccharine at times — but perhaps we owe Hattie some tender treatment after the hardships she had seen in her career, in her life. She broke many barriers for actors of color, but dealt with pain and controversy along the way.

Hi-Hat Hattie is a charming introduction both to Hattie McDaniel and to the Aurora Fox.

Hello, gorgeous.
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