Satchmo at the Waldorf, my first play, opens on September 15 in Orlando, Florida. Regular readers of this blog will recall that I directed a staged reading of the first part of Satchmo at the Waldorf in Winter Park back in February. (I blogged about the experience here and here.) This, however, is the real thing, a fully staged professional production featuring Dennis Neal, the star of February’s reading.
Here’s a blurb that I wrote about the play for publicity purposes:
It’s a biographer’s job to stick to the facts. In Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, I summed up what is known about the greatest jazz musician of the twentieth century. But after I finished writing the book, I found that I had questions about Armstrong, and about his complex relationship with Joe Glaser, his longtime manager, that I simply couldn’t answer. How did Armstrong really feel about Glaser? And how did he feel, deep down inside, about his own life and work? Did he have any nagging doubts about the hard choices he’d made along the way? It struck me that a one-man play in which Armstrong looked back on those choices at the end of his life might prove to be very dramatic–and that it would be even more dramatic to have the same actor play Armstrong and Glaser. That’s how Satchmo at the Waldorf was born.
Satchmo at the Waldorf will be presented at Orlando Shakespeare’s Mandell Theatre. It runs Sept. 15-Oct. 2, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:30. For information, call 407-405-8091 or e-mail SatchmoWaldorfAstoria@gmail.com.
Here’s the press release. Pass it on–and watch this space for further details.
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On September 15, Louis Armstrong comes back to life at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, where Dennis Neal stars in the world premiere of Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf, a one-man play about the most beloved jazzman of all time. Set at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong performed in public for the last time before his death in 1971, Satchmo at the Waldorf is a theatrical tour de force, a play in which the same actor portrays Armstrong and Joe Glaser, the trumpeter’s controversial manager. Inspired by their actual words, the play takes a searching look at the complex relationship between the genius from New Orleans who turned jazz into a swinging art form and the hard-nosed, tough-talking ex-gangster from Chicago who made him an international icon.
The three men behind this powerhouse production include the playwright, Terry Teachout, drama critic of The Wall Street Journal and author of the best-selling biography, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong; the director, Rus Blackwell, one of Florida’s top actor-directors; and the star, Dennis Neal, a familiar face on Orlando stage and in film and television who acts with special insight into the essence of Armstrong.
In addition to being a drama critic and biographer, Teachout has also worked as a professional jazz bassist and written the libretti for two operas. He spent the past two winters as a scholar-in-residence at Rollins College’s Winter Park Institute, where he wrote the first draft of Satchmo at the Waldorf last year. Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong was praised by the New York Times as “eloquent and important” and chosen by the Washington Post as one of the ten best books of 2009. Satchmo at the Waldorf is his first play.
Teachout was the first Armstrong biographer to have access to 650 reel-to-reel tapes made by the trumpeter during the last quarter-century of his life, many of which contain astonishingly candid recordings of his private after-hours conversations. These tapes served as the inspiration for much of the dialogue in Satchmo at the Waldorf, in which the offstage Louis Armstrong–raw, frank, and uncensored–is revealed for the first time.
Rus Blackwell, one of the most sought-after actor/directors in the southeast, brings a wealth of experience and a passion for storytelling to Satchmo. Blackwell is a graduate of New York’s Circle in the Square Theatre School, where he had the opportunity to study with well-known directors Michael Kahn and Nikos Psachoropolous. Most recently, he directed Sweet Bird of Youth and A Streetcar Named Desire for the Tennessee Williams Tribute in Williams’ birthplace of Columbus, Miss. He is a founding member and former artistic director for Mad Cow Theatre Company and SoulFire Theatre here in Orlando and has an extensive resume as an actor in theatre, film and television. Some of his credits include last year’s Shotgun for Orlando Shakespeare and such feature films as Monster, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Dolphin Tale, and Battle: Los Angeles. He will be appearing on the Starz series Magic City and in this year’s God of Carnage here at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre.
Dennis Neal, one of Orlando’s most respected actors with twenty-five years’ experience, is a founding member of Mad Cow Theatre and has performed in such notable productions as The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Jesus Hopped the A Train, Seven Guitars, Two Trains Running, The Piano Lesson, and Shotgun. Theatregoers will recognize him from these and many other productions at Mad Cow Theatre, Empty Spaces, the Peoples’ Theatre, and the Orlando Shakespeare Festival, as well as from film and TV in Dead Man Walking, Wild Things, Endure, Letters to God, Sunshine State, ABC’s The Practice, and NBC’s The West Wing. He has performed in works by August Wilson, Athol Fugard, David Mamet, and Stephen Adly Guirgis, and brings his own unique style and brilliance to Satchmo at the Waldorf.
William Elliot, the set and lighting designer, has long been a favorite for his artistic interpretation of a playwright’s vision. He was a professor at the University of Central Florida and is currently professor at Stetson University teaching production and acting as the production manager and technical director for the University. Some of his notable designs include All My Sons, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, and The Importance of Being Earnest.