SATCHMO AT THE WALDORF -- The Man Not the Music
By Bob and Karen Isaacs
BOB: Long Wharf is presenting a truly entertaining one man show based on the last months of life of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
KAREN: I definitely agree. This production, written by Terry Teachout, who wrote the biography of Armstrong, titled “Pops,” avoids many of the traps that one person shows often fall into.
BOB: This is NOT a musical, as John Douglas Thompson plays not only the title role but two other characters. In fact you only hear a few snippets of recordings of Armstrong’s performances.
KAREN: The play takes place in a dressing room at the Waldorf Astoria in 1971 where Armstrong was performing. He was ill and died a few months later. He is supposedly taping his autobiography in which to some extent he reveals the background to his success and the types of relationships he had to create in order to maintain that success.
BOB: He focuses on the relationship with his longtime manager, Joe Glaser -- who had died earlier. Armstrong is upset that Glaser did not bequeath a piece of the very successful talent agency that had been built around him.
KAREN: Armstrong also reacts strongly to the accusations by some young jazz performers, that Armstrong was an Uncle Tom playing to the white stereotypes of the African-American.
BOB: Thompson, who plays the role, in a sense recognizes the audiences that necessary for Satchmo’s success, and brings attention to the Long Wharf audience which was mainly white.
KAREN: The author does a fine job a bringing these two other characters -- Glaser and Miles Davis -- into the play allowing them speak for themselves. As a result we get an interesting view of Glaser’s position that differs from Armstrong’s impressions.
BOB: Thompson -- under the direction of Gordon Edelstein -- does an outstanding job of creating three distinct characters and smoothly transitioning between them. As part of the action, Thompson as Satchmo changes clothes.
KAREN: You will find this an enjoyable piece of theater, but not if you expect a musical review. Satchmo at the Waldorf is at Long Wharf Theater through Nov. 4
This review aired on WNHU 88.7 FM and www.wnhu.net
The story takes place in the editorial offices of a golfing magazine and its generally incompetent employees who learn there is a good chance that under a new ownership the deadwood will have to go. And believe us, based upon the activities of the characters, it will be hard to decide which ones are not dead wood.
Starting with the writer, Carter (Matthew Rausch) who dislikes writing and doesn’t do it very well, the abilities of the rest of the staff go downhill from there. Temple is a sexy do-nothing whose talent is that she’s allergic and truly has no ideas. Jennifer Mudge is okay in the role especially in the looks department. Jane (Rebecca Harris) is a shy inadequate human being whose language gets twisted up as soon as she has to speak and what she says is unintelligible. The boss of this operation is Sam, a butch taskmaster played by Candy Buckley who doesn’t know how to motivate her charges. And there is Otis (Colin McPhillamy), the bumbling, middle-aged son of the magazine’s founder who for some reason sports a British accent.
Into this mix comes Johnson (Tom Beckett) a flaccid attempt at creating a Buster Keaton deadpanned character that doesn’t quite come off. The staff believes he is the hatchet man the new management has brought in to cleanup the operation. Johnson, however, is a relatively good writer – he does some quick rewrites on Carter’s work – but he is a stutterer who gets stuck on a word like a broken record that apparently can be corrected by singing a song, which he does from time to time.
Wiltse’s attempts to use these people and their situation to create farcical humor doesn’t quite succeed. Only at the end does some genuine comedy emerge as the characters have a variety of evening trysts in the office and of course windup stumbling into each other’s relationships. There are some funny moments here that almost make Scramble! palatable.
A clever scenic design by Jeff Cowie provides a two office setting with a wonderful connecting closet filled with sporting equipment some of which emerges from time to time twisted around the bodies of cast members who enter the closet.
Scramble! is at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1 through July 26. For tickets and information call the box office toll free at 1-888-927-7529.
This review appeared in Shore Publications.