Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Satchmo at the Waldorf ****

John Douglas Thompson gives an absolutely mesmerizing performance as Louis Armstrong in this one-person play by Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout, now at the Westside Theater upstairs. In his dressing room at the Waldorf just a few months before his death, Armstrong reflects on the highs and lows of his long career. His success has been blemished by the disappearance of his black audience and unfair branding by younger black musicians like Miles Davis as an Uncle Tom. He is especially troubled by the unhappy outcome of his long and seemingly friendly relationship with his manager Joe Glaser. As if playing a convincing Armstrong were not enough, Thompson also portrays both Glaser and Davis. Lee Savage's clever set design and Kevin Adams's lighting make the transitions between characters crystal clear. Ilona Somogyi's costumes are appropriate. Gordon Edelstein's direction is assuredly smooth. I have a few quibbles: the opening scene seemed unnecessarily crude, there is very little music, and there are a few lumpy spots in the script. Nevertheless, Thompson's dazzling performance conquers all and makes this a memorable experience. Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission.

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