I went to an open rehearsal for Satchmo at the Waldorf on the evening before its world premiere. The play was written by Terry Teachout perhaps best known as the Wall Street Journal theater critic. The play, directed by Rus Blackwell stars Dennis Neal. The play was based on 650 reel to reel tapes that Satchmo, Louis Armstrong, made over the course of his career. A tape to tape recorder was on set and a few times Dennis spoke directly to it. Circular tables were arranged cabaret style around the stage.
During the course of the play Dennis plays both Satchmo and his lifelong manager Joe Glaser. He transformed instantly and believably on a dime. It is through this relationship that the hidden details of Armstrong's life were revealed. Although fellow performers referenced him as an "Uncle Tom", singing and waving a handkerchief mistral style for the white folks, he was actually quite a bad ass with a sharp tongue. Talking to a reporter about whites spitting at young black children going to desegregated schools, he called them out for what they were, "Mother f*ckers!"
Looking down at his trumpet, he remarked about how lucky he was to find Lucille, the love of his life. "She know this trumpet come first, even before her. That's my livin' and my life." He had never had a Christmas tree growing up and she set one up for him as a surprise. He looked at the lights all night. He wouldn't let her shut it off.
Dennis Neal gave an inspiring performance. He never played the trumpet but his monologue slowly unraveled the inner spirit of a great performer. Tech for the show broke down at one point when a sound effect was lost and had to be tracked down. Dennis sat quietly on the stage, waiting. He said, "Bad scrimmage, great game." It was like Satchmo himself waiting for the world to catch up to his inner driving force. Terry sat on stage with him. Photographer Kristin Wheeler took the opportunity to photograph the actor and playwright together. This was a historic moment. A great show was about to be born.
Performances are at 7:30pm Thursday through Saturday and at 2:30pm Sundays through October 2nd at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater. Tickets are $20 general and $16 for seniors and students. Call 407 405-8091 or e-mail SatchmoWaldorfAstoria@gmail.com for more information.