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Lawrence E. Street, who plays Louis Armstrong in Satchmo at the Waldorf at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre. Courtesy photo.




See Satchmo at the Waldorf

Where: Seacoast Repertory Theatre, 125 Bow St., Portsmouth
When: On view now through Feb. 14, with showtimes Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Contact: seacoastrep.org, 433-4793, info@seacoastrep.org
Admission: Tickets start at $22
 
More Louis Armstrong history
What: Educator and performer Nanette Perrotte presents “Jazz: In the Beginning, there was Satchmo,” a series of stories and songs about the iconic musician and era.
Where: Amherst Town Library, 14 Main St., Amherst, 673-2288, library@amherstlibrary.org, amherstlibrary.org
When: Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m.
 




One-man drama
Rep presents a new look at Louis Armstrong

01/28/16
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



Before he died in Queens, New York, in 1971, jazz legend Louis Armstrong left behind more than 600 reels of tape recordings, not just of him singing, but also of him talking about life candidly. These tapes now survive in the Louis Armstrong archives at Queens College, and it’s why, years later, we know it wasn’t just optimism and joy behind Satchmo’s warm smile.

Satchmo at the Waldorf by Terry Teachout is a one-man drama about these recordings, telling of the turbulence and hurt that Armstrong often hid behind his happy-go-lucky facade. Directed by Jeremy Abram and starring Lawrence E. Street, it’s now on stage at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre, with shows through Valentine’s Day.
Rep Artistic Director Miles Burns said he read a lot of scripts last year, and besides good timing — it premieres in the midst of Black History Month and Mardis Gras — company directors thought Seacoast audiences would appreciate it in part because of the success of last year’s one-woman show, A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, and because it is, as far as Burns knows, brand-new to the area.
“When you learn about the things he went through in his life, you wonder, how could he have sung, ‘What a Wonderful World?’ You really find so much about the man, and it’s very touching,” Burns said.
Satchmo at the Waldorf is not a show for kids, with crass language and mature themes. The play premiered in 2011 and it takes place after a 1971 performance Armstrong performed in New York’s Waldorf Hotel, shortly before Armstrong’s death. It shows him sick and weary, unwinding in his dressing room after what turned out to be his last show, while reminiscing about life.
Street will perform all the play’s characters — Armstrong, his manager Joe Glaser and musician Miles Davis, who was incredibly critical of the elder jazz legend, calling him an “Uncle Tom” for pandering to white audiences. Street said capturing Armstrong’s voice has been a struggle (though it’s certainly not an exact imitation, he said), but what’s most daunting is performing alone for an entire show.
“I’ll tell you, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. And I knew that going into it. I think what interested me the most was the challenge of trying to pull off a one-person show, and keeping audiences interested for two hours,” said Street, who earned the role through New York acting auditions.
Abram makes his directorial debut with this play. He was in the Rep’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Full Monty and Chicago. He also portrayed Satchmo in the 2012 off-Broadway musical Louis Armstrong: Jazz Ambassador, another one-man show. Because of this, Abram, who’s also a New Orleans native, knows the famous jazz musician very well. While researching that role, he stepped into the legend’s former home and listened to some of his original voice recordings.
“Louis Armstrong was one of the first people to have a tape recorder. He’d record ... his performances so he could listen to them, listen to the playback,” Abram said. 
The show is not a biography — Teachout himself called it a work of fiction, freely based on fact — but it provides another perspective of the famous musician, probably one Armstrong himself wanted people to see.
“I think he knew he was going to be talked about after he died. I think he knew he was going to leave this incredible legacy, and he knew he was a huge star. He had already written two books before he died,” Abram said. “In the play, he knows he’s going to die soon. He knows he doesn’t have a long life ahead of him. He can barely breathe. But he has to get all this out before it’s too late.”





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