Mrs. T and I took a friend to see Satchmo at the Waldorf on Friday. An unusually large and responsive crowd showed up, and John Douglas Thompson fed off its excitement. He always gives a good performance—I’m awed by his consistency—but he was flying that night. Every line landed and every detail registered.
The response at evening’s end reminded me of the scene in Satchmo in which Louis Armstrong describes what happened the first time he sang “Hello, Dolly!” in public:
Everybody there, they go ooooh! All at once, just like that. And when we finished, they start yelling. Not clapping—yelling. Like they gonna tear the house down. And I lean over to the piano player and I say, “I do believe they like it.”
No doubt John was intensely aware, as I was, of the fact that the New York run of Satchmo will end on Sunday afternoon. While I have reason to expect that the show will be produced in other cities, and that John will perform it in at least some of those cities, it’s still going to be tough to ring down the figurative curtain (Satchmo, like most modern plays, doesn’t have an actual curtain) on the final performance.
In a manner of speaking, I’ll also be ringing down the curtain on the 2013-14 season, which for me was quite a year. Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington was published in October, a week after the Louisville premiere of The King’s Man, my third operatic collaboration with Paul Moravec. Satchmo opened in New York in March, and I received the Bradley Prize last week.
In 2009 I had occasion to recall in this space the opening lines of one of my favorite movies, My Favorite Year: “Nineteen fifty-four. You don’t get years like that anymore. It was my favorite year.” I reminded myself at the time that anyone as lucky as I’d just been “has no business complaining about anything whatsoever. Today I’m as thankful as it’s possible to be, and I hope I have the good sense to remain so for some time to come.”
Would that such gratitude were more firmly rooted in man’s psyche! Alas, I fear it’s not in our natures to recall such high-minded sentiments for very long. La Rochefoucauld, that cynic of cynics, actually went so far as to claim that “the gratitude of most men is but a secret desire of receiving greater benefits.” Maybe so, maybe not, but it’s certainly true that we must perpetually remind ourselves to be grateful, which is why we celebrate Thanksgiving each year. Yet as wistful as it will surely feel fo me to watch John perform Satchmo at the Waldorf one last time on the stage of New York’s Westside Theatre, I don’t think I’ll need any such reminders, at least not for a while.
Mrs. T and I are celebrating our good fortune by taking two weeks off, something we haven’t done for a long time. My Friday drama column for The Wall Street Journal is already written and filed, and we’re heading out to one of our secret hideaways this afternoon. We’ll be driving into New York just long enough to see the final performance of Satchmo, and since next Friday is July 4, I won’t be writing a column that day. As always, this blog will continue to operate, but otherwise I’ll be on ice.
We’ll be back on July 7. Wave if you see us passing by.
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Louis Armstrong and the All-Stars perform “Hello, Dolly!” on stage in Paris in 1965: