The first rehearsal for the Chicago premiere of Satchmo at the Waldorf went exhilaratingly well. Barry Shabaka Henley, whom I met for the first time yesterday morning, proved to be both a first-rate actor and an unusually nice man. (He’s the tall guy at left.) Judging by what happened in the Court Theatre’s rehearsal hall on Tuesday, Barry is already well on the way to putting his personal stamp on Satchmo, just as Dennis Neal and John Douglas Thompson did before him. What happens in the rehearsal room stays in the rehearsal room, so I don’t want to be any more specific than that. Suffice it to say that he read the whole show out loud for the production team and a small audience of invited guests, and—as we say in the business—he killed.
I also got a look at the finished model for John Culbert’s set, which is already under construction on the stage of the Court. Of course I’d seen photographs of earlier versions, but standing in front of the model for the first time is always a thrill, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
No guests today. Instead, we roll up our sleeves and get down to business. Charlie Newell, the director, has strongly and excitingly individual ideas about Satchmo, and that, as I told him when we first discussed the production several months ago, is exactly what I have in mind. I don’t want a replica of any of the play’s previous productions, wonderful though they were. I want Charlie to do it his way, and he knows I mean it.
Don’t expect to hear too much more from me for the next few days. We have a lot to do between now and the first preview on January 7. Rehearsing a play is hard work—but it’s also as much fun as anything I know. That’s why they call it a play.