‘Reading Rainbow’ voice Tina Fabrique joins Kim Bey in Mosaic Theater’s ‘Marys Seacole’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Marys Seacole' (Part 1)

You know her voice from singing the iconic theme to TV’s “Reading Rainbow.”

This month, Tina Fabrique stars in Mosaic Theater’s “Marys Seacole” now through May 29.

“It is about Mary Seacole,” Fabrique told WTOP. “This is her story about her life and her work as a caregiver, but also the other Marys represent other women who have other things to overcome. In each case, each Mary is doing something in her life to enlighten her and her connection to the Mary Seacole is one that you’ll see play out.”

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 proceeded to learn about healing, caregiving and her own doctoring,” Fabrique said. “She’s a Jamaican Brit and her mother was the first to train her. She was around the time that Florence Nightingale was on the scene, but because she was a Black woman, she wasn’t given carte blanche to be a caregiver to go help British soldiers being wounded.”

Her story is very unique at a time when other people of color were enslaved.

“Her father was a Scottish soldier, her mother was Jamaican, she was a free woman, so right away that sets her in a different mode for that time period … 1850s, a Black woman getting on a ship, going to another part of the world to do caregiving, insurmountable danger just being on a ship, being a woman alone, taking supplies … she was a real go-getter,” Fabrique said.

D.C. favorite Kim Bey plays the role of Seacole in this regional premiere.

“She is absolutely amazing,” Fabrique said. “She is doing an amazing job.”

Meanwhile, Fabrique plays the ghostly role of Duppy Mary.

“The term ‘duppy’ is a Jamaican culture reference to a ghost figure,” Fabrique said. “This ghost figure can take any form. It can be within an animal, any type of [object] or person that it wanted to enter. The duppy is depicting her mother, she’s coming back to settle some scores, to make things clear to all of the Marys. … Duppy is quite vocal and has a lot to say.”

Her ghostly appearance is creatively presented by director Eric Ruffin.

“It’s the most wonderful costume design,” Fabrique said. “Moyenda Kulemeka gave me the most fantastic 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 play tips from one time period to another. … It adds layers.”

Born in Harlem, Fabrique sang gospel in New York City before discovering theater.

“I was singing in church and nightclubs,” Fabrique said. “There was a woman, Rosetta LeNoire, who had Amas Musical Theatre on 86th Street in Manhattan, who told me in my mid-20s, ‘You should be doing more theater, dear. You have a great voice and presence’ … Once I took her advice and I showed up for a couple of auditions, I never stopped working.”

Her prolific stage career has included such Broadway shows as “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Bring In The Noise, Bring In The Funk,” “Ragtime” and “The Glass Menagerie.”

“I’ve done quite a few shows on Broadway,” Fabrique said. “I’ve just been a working actor and I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to get some real good stuff to do.”

She’s most proud of playing Ella Fitzgerald in “Ella,” which hit Arena Stage in D.C.

“I love Washington audiences,” Fabrique said. “I did my Ella Fitzgerald show here and it was just astounding. I’ve done ‘Ella’ throughout regional theaters for seven years. I found that everyone who remembers Ella Fitzgerald’s voice was curious about her as a person, who had any memories connected to the wonderful, marvelous song list … they were really into the show.”

Still, Fabrique might best be known for singing the theme to TV’s “Reading Rainbow.”

“I have a grandson and just recently he called me and said, ‘Do you realize, grandma, that your ‘Reading Rainbow’ [song] is now on TikTok and it’s trending?'” Fabrique said. “I said, ‘Honey, what does that mean?’ Everyone was using my version, which is the original we did in a little studio no bigger than someone’s bathroom. It was just in three takes and took off.”

The show ran from 1983 to 2006, winning a Peabody Award and 26 Daytime Emmy Awards.

“The show won so many Emmys and did so well,” Fabrique said. “Every time I had a chance to watch it, I was always astounded at how they went on location and did all of these wonderful things to bring interest to young people watching this show to proceed reading. … I get all these wonderful messages about how the show, the music made people feel really happy.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Marys Seacole' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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