Satchmo at the Waldorf: In brief
The impressive John Douglas Thompson stars as aging horn god Louis Armstrong (as well as Miles Davis and manager Joe Glaser) in this dressing-room solo play, which marks the playwriting debut of Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout. Gordon Edelstein directs the NYC premiere.
Satchmo at the Waldorf: Theater review by Helen Shaw
Virtuosity abounds in Satchmo at the Waldorf, critic-biographer Terry Teachout’s soliloquy-play about Louis Armstrong. There's jazz on a reel-to-reel tape in Armstrong’s Waldorf dressing room, a welter of gleefully profane detail in text and set, and a marathon-strong performance by powerhouse John Douglas Thompson, playing a 70-year-old Armstrong; his Mafia-connected manager, Joe Glaser; and even, briefly, Miles Davis, squinting out of a neon glare. All these arias, though, can’t impart narrative tension, a reason to churn on for 90 minutes. Satchmo could play 200 high Cs? Something else makes a piece of music.
It’s 1971, and Armstrong is looking back, holding forth on his astonishing life. The piece has information galore, but Teachout focuses on two concerns: Glaser’s end-of-life betrayal, and the groundbreaking musician’s relationship to the black audience. These days, Armstrong laments, only whites come: “They look like a carton of eggs sitting there.” Teachout and director Gordon Edelstein have Thompson turn that joke out into the audience, pitching his sawmill growl straight at us and, for a moment, we feel another, more dangerous show lurking beneath the dutiful one. The rest of the time, though, Satchmo tells the tale, but doesn't quite swing.—Theater review by Helen Shaw