I have seen a lot of theatre in my life – since the tender age of nine when I was first introduced to the live theatre experience at a community theatre production of “The Sound of Music” in my hometown to now, some fifty-one years later – when I have experienced shows from national touring companies as well as Off-Broadway and Broadway. Only a handful of times, however, have I seen performances that I would consider truly transcendent.
I just added another.
It is hard to find words to truly describe what I think of San Jose Stage Company’s wonderful production of “Satchmo at the Waldorf.” I try putting them together, and I just come up with a lot of superlatives – including the word superlative. I was amazed. I’ve been told that TheatreStorm rarely gives a 5-star, must see rating. I’d give this show more stars, if I had them to give.
For those who are unfamiliar, “Satchmo at the Waldorf is a one person, three character play that takes place in March of 1971 in a dressing room backstage at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City where Louis Armstrong performed in public for the last time, just four months prior to his death. One actor plays three roles – jazz legend Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, his manager Joe Glaser, and fellow trumpeter Miles Davis.
Playing all of these to perfection is the absolutely magnificent Mr. L. Peter Callender. I watched this man so fully embody a man that I knew from television and films from my childhood – the gravelly voice, the wide, bright, toothy smile, and the absolute joy in sharing his talent with an audience. Callender brings so much more to his performance, offering us a window through which we see Satchmo’s life from his early struggles, to his successes, and all of the ecstasies, pains, and disappointments over his long and storied career. On second thought, it isn’t a window. Callender’s Armstrong fairly flings double doors open wide and ushers you in. The excellent script by Terry Teachout gives us a Louis Armstrong that pulls no punches – and Mr. Callender is a knock out artist.
Director and Oakland native Ted Lange guides this production to perfection. The bright dressing room set design by Giulio Cesare Perrone works wonderfully, and is beautifully and effectively illuminated by Maurice Vercoutere’s superb lighting design. Ashley Garlick’s costumes are terrific, as is Steve Schoenbeck’s sound design. There isn’t a weak link in the lot.
Please. If you want to see theatre at its finest, stop reading this and go get yourself tickets before it closes. I guarantee you’ll you’ll be transported into the world of this fabulous production. If you’re anything like me, you’ll forget that you’re watching a play and think to yourself “Did I just hear Louis Armstrong say the F-word?”
“Satchmo at the Waldorf” continues at San Jose Stage Company through February 26. For more information, click here.
Rating: ***** (For an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“Satchmo at the Waldorf” by Terry Teachout. Produced by San Jose Stage Company. Director: Ted Lange. Scenic Designer: Giulio Cesare Perrone. Costume Designer: Ashley Garlick. Lighting Designer: Maurice Vercoutere. Sound Designer: Steve Schoenbeck.
Louis Armstrong, Joe Glaser, Miles Davis: L. Peter Callender