The play is set just months before Louis Armstrong’s death in 1971. Louis (which should be pronounced Lew-is, not Lou-ee) enters his dressing room short of breath and in need oxygen after a performance at the Waldorf. He shuffles over to his reel-to-reel tape recorder, wiping sweat off his brow with his signature handkerchief and begins recording his life story from his beginnings in a New Orleans brothel to his pinnacle of fame.
The story is told not just through the voice of Mr. Armstrong, but through that of his manger of forty years, Joe Glaser, and that of Miles Davis. Watching Mr. Thompson morph into these characters is nothing short of amazing. One moment he is the hunched, sweating and tired Mr. Armstrong and a moment later he is standing tall, with confidence, embodying the loud and brash Joe Glaser. At one point he moves back and forth between these roles so quickly and agilely that I was left breathless.
This wonderfully written play by Terry Teachout, a biographer and the Wall Street Journal’s drama critic, came across my radar a bit by accident. I had a free afternoon and had access to a discounted ticket. I thought ‘why not go since it was supposed to rain’. Boy was I surprised. Now I want to scream my praise from my rooftop!
You don’t need to know anything about jazz or Louis Armstrong to enjoy this play. Just go to see it for the great piece of writing and directing that it is and to see John Douglas Thompson’s stunning performance. LAR
Written by: Terry Teachout
Directed by: Gordon Edelstein
Approximately 90 minutes
Westside Theater, Upstairs: 407 W 43rd Street. Runs through August 3rd, 2014
Tickets from $39 at Theatermania, CODE: SWTMC24