(Editor's note, 11/7/12: See press release below shared by Rosalind... Satchmo is the biggest hit in Stage II's history.)
Say it isn't so! The sweet-smiling, wide-mouthed, gravel-voiced, trumpeter extraordinaire Louis Armstrong, cursed like a longshoreman, smoked weed and wanted to be called Louis! Terry Teachout's new play, “Satchmo,” 90 minutes without intermission, tells us that and many other things that we did not know about this great African American jazz musician who was born in New Orleans in 1901 and died in 1971.
While the one-man show is over-filled with expletive, it is an amazing American history lesson. Deftly directed by Gordon Edelstein, John Douglas Thompson's embodiment of three characters, the down-to-earth Armstrong, his only manager, pugnacious Joe Glaser, white and Jewish, and the quietly sophisticated trumpeter Miles Davis is awesome. Thoroughly convincing, Thompson moves seamlessly among the three disparate personalities painting a much more painful picture than Armstrong's public image projected.
We meet Louis Armstrong changing clothes (nicely done by Ilona Somogyi) between shows in the spacious Dressing Room Backstage at the Empire Room of the Waldorf-Astoria; designed in cream and beige by Lee Savage and brightly lit by Stephen Strawbridge. He is very ill with kidney disease and at times makes his way to an oxygen tank to help his breathing. As he is taping reminiscences of his life for a book, we find out that his mother was a prostitute, as was one of his four wives; his father left the scene early and it was when he got into trouble and was sent to a reform school for black children that he became a musician. He later married Louise Wilson, the love of his life.
Early on, Armstrong is threatened by gangsters from Al Capone's mob and calls upon Glaser to help him. The staccato-voiced Glaser, the son of a doctor, was his best friend and his loyal adviser. They were so close, Armstrong wore a Star of David around his neck. But Armstrong was hurt and resentful because Glaser did not leave him anything in his will, never realizing that Glaser was blackmailed and forced to sign half of his company Associated Booking by Sid Korchak, front man for the same gangsters. Glaser managed many well-known stars like Billy Eckstein, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. He invented the title: “Louis Armstrong -World's Greatest Trumpeter,” but advised him that his voice, not the exciting high C's he could hit with ease, was his ticket to success. He was proved right, when Armstrong recorded “Hello Dolly” and although he didn't think it was much of a song, it became a mega hit.
Louis Armstrong negotiated the years of segregation with an outward smile and inner anger. Black people could perform on stage at a hotel but they were not permitted to sleep in that very same hotel. When he did become famous, he had a mantra: If you can't stay --don't play!
“Satchmo,” an interesting exploration of a famous person, depicted by a wonderful actor who does not imitate but creates a realistic portrait, plays only through November 4 at the LongWharf Stage II.
SATCHMO AT THE WALDORF
BIGGEST HIT IN STAGE II HISTORY
– Long Wharf Theatre’s production of Satchmo at the Waldorf has become the biggest hit in the history of the theatre’s Stage II.
The show, written by Terry Teachout, directed by Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein, and starring John Douglas Thompson, has become the highest grossing play since Stage II opened during the 1977-78 season. The play has brought in more single ticket sales than the 2008-09 season production of Hughie, starring Brian Dennehy. Ranking third on the list is Dennehy again, appearing in Krapp’s Last Tape during the 2011-12 season.
Final performances run through November 11. Tickets are still available at http://www.longwharf.org/ and by calling 203-787-4282 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting203-787-4282end_of_the_skype_highlighting.
“We are extremely grateful to the audience for their support of this production,” said Managing Director Josh Borenstein. “Every night, we hear words of praise from our patrons, which is an extraordinarily gratifying feeling.”
“John Douglas Thompson’s portrayal of beloved jazz great Louis Armstrong is one of the indelible performances in the 48-year history of Long Wharf Theatre. His exhilarating tour de force that navigates between the aging trumpeter and his predatory white Jewish manager Joe Glaser has been a marvel to behold. What a joy to have been associated with this project,” said Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein.
In addition, the number of single tickets sold ranks near the top of the list in Stage II history. The top shows since 1998 are Hughie by Eugene O’Neill; The Mandrake Root, written by and starring Lynn Redgrave (2000-01 season); Satchmo at the Waldorf; Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett; Modern Orthodox by Daniel Goldfarb (2000-01 season); and An American Daughter by Wendy Wasserstein (1998-99 season).
This has been a fruitful time for Long Wharf Theatre. Renovations to the Mainstage are on schedule. The number of new subscribers is up this year and the renewal rate for subscription is over 80 percent in an industry where the average is approximately 70 percent. In addition, the theatre has enacted new flexible ticketing plans in order to make attending Long Wharf as easy and as cost effective as possible.
For more information about Long Wharf Theatre, or to purchase tickets to a show in the 2012-13 season, visit www.longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting203-787-4282end_of_the_skype_highlighting.