Archikulture Digest

Satchmo at the Waldorf

Satchmo at the Waldorf

Written by Terry Teachout

Directed by Rus Blackwell

Starring Dennis Neal

The Riverton Playground Theatre and RedMoonJoint Entertainment

Mandell Theater at the Orlando Shakespeare Center

Orlando, FL</strong>

Never in my theatre going experience have I heard “cocksucker” used with such charm and élan. In this semi-realistic biopic of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Dennis Neal retells his story from the rough side of New Orleans to the top of the pop music heap. In the melting pot of Jazz Age New Orleans Armstrong leaned his chops, then he migrated north to the mob controlled clubs in New York and Chicago. He had his run ins with the mob, and as Neal so eloquently explains, “You need a powerful white man to put his arm around you and say ‘don’t mess with this nigger, he’s mine.’” Sometimes this was Al Capone; sometimes it was Dutch Shultz, but mostly Joe Glaser who pushed Armstrong from the improvisational jazz scene to the Middle American friendly pop sound. Professionally and artistically successful, Armstrong was still exploited and marginalized by his manger, but allowed freedom to do what he wanted. That included playing his horn every night and not worrying about the financial and logistic details of running a tribe of musicians. Its several stories at once – an exploitative musician / publisher relation, a black man finding acceptance in the face of entrenched racism, and a man loving what he does and finds a way to do it. All are tied together thought a strong and gripping narrative, a maestro exposition by Dennis Neal, and subtle if oddly lit direction by the long absent Rus Blackwell.

Teachout incorporates real details from Armstrong taped archive into a plausible reconstruction of his life. Sex, drugs and profanity fill the interstices of Armstrong’s life as the audience flows on stage. The small cabaret tables help blur the fourth wall along with Armstrong’s direct recollections dictated into the microphone and among the crowd. Neal switches between Armstrong and Joe Glaser with light changes that we decipher soon enough. I caught the opening night performance with its minor technical issues – Neal occasionally had trouble finding his light (or perhaps the light had trouble finding him.) All that can be forgiven, Neal fits the role like a pair of well worn tap shoes, and while he almost has to play the trumpet Teachout guides the story around that potential technical difficulty. This leaves Neal completely immersed in the role, but I’m willing to bet he could blast out “Hello Dolly” if called upon.

For more information on Satchmo, please visit!/pages/Satchmo-at-the-Waldorf/103982393034054

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