Broadway Doubleheader…

LONG WHARF SATCHMO LOGOThis week I went to a doubleheader…not the Yankees who cannot seem to win, but a Broadway twofer.

I indulged my love for theater at the off-broadway show, Satchmo at the Waldorf. I adored Louis Armstrong. I remember shedding a tear when he passed. My grandfather exposed me to his extraordinary talents along with Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra at a very young age.

I was fortunate enough to see Armstrong in, Hello, Dolly and to witness his greatness as a child at a live concert.

John Douglas Thompson as Louis Armstrong
John Douglas Thompson as Louis Armstrong

The play takes place in 1971 (the year of his death), backstage in a dressing room at the famed Waldorf Hotel.

Louis Armstrong has just played one of the final performances of his extraordinary career. Unwinding backstage, he recounts events that transformed him into the world-famous “Satchmo”.

With no-nonsense manager Joe Glaser at his side, Armstrong kept steady through an era of enormous social change and personal criticism for being labeled by his peers (especially Miles Davis) as an Uncle Tom.

The play is an absorbing and uplifting new play about the music, struggles and triumphs of the man who invented jazz. Starring Obie and Lucille Lortel Award winner, John Douglas Thompson (Othello, The Emperor Jones) as both Armstrong and high powered manager, Joe Glaser, in a tour de force performance.

Prior to New York, this exhilarating production played to sold out engagements at the Long Wharf Theatre and Shakespeare & Company.

Written by Terry Teachout, who is the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal and directed by Gordon Edelstein (The Road to Mecca), Satchmo at the Waldorf presents Armstrong as never before seen him…hilarious, moving and painstakingly human.

Satchmo at the Waldorf Westside Theater Upstairs 407 West 43rd Street between 9th and 10th Avenue. Tickets start at $39. %0% off tickets available at TKTS, 47th Street in Times Square. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Violet03_1000x387

Violet, the musical, capped the nighttime doubleheader. Violet stars the incomparable Sutton Foster who is fabulous in everything…what presence and that voice.

Violet tells the story of a young woman’s quest for beauty amidst the image-obsessed landscape of the 1960s. Facially disfigured in a childhood accident, Violet (Foster) dreams of a miraculous transformation through the power of faith.

Convinced that a televangelist in Oklahoma can heal her, she hops a Greyhound bus and starts the journey of a lifetime. Along the way, Violet forms unlikely friendships with her fellow riders, who teach her about beauty, love, courage and what it means to be an outsider.

Foster brings a raw emotional intensity as well as sarcasm to the moving story. With its tangy flavors of country, gospel, blues and honky-tonk rock, the role of Violet is also perhaps Sutton’s warmest and most accessible part, to date. Her one, simple outfit and unadorned straight hair, which serves as a shield, the lack of make up, further highlights her vulnerability.

Joshua Henry, Sutton Foster, Colin Donnell
Joshua Henry, Sutton Foster, Colin Donnell Photo: NYTimes

It’s probably a mixture of curiosity and compassion that draws two soldiers on the bus, Monty (Colin Donnell) and Flick (Joshua Henry), to take her under their wing. Violet is encouraged by the soldiers to join them for a boozy time in Memphis, after which the cocky, but good-hearted Monty slips into her hotel room for what both imagine will be a fleeting encounter.

While Monty finds himself drawn to Violet more deeply than he expects, it is Flick who shares her sense of being an outsider. He is black and in, “Let It Sing” the show’s big roof-raising gospel-inflected number, Mr. Henry (The Scottsboro Boys) as the New York Times states, “glows with pent-up feeling as Flick.”  Joshua Henry nails the role and is absolutely fabulous.

It is a delightful musical journey, quite touching and expertly and enthusiastically performed. I can’t declare it the best NEW musical on Broadway…that belongs to Beautiful, The Carole King Musical, but it is a lovely night on the Great White Way.

Violet is nominated for a Tony for Best Revival of A Musical, Sutton Foster for Best Actress in a Musical, Joshua Henry for Best Featured Actor in a Musical and Leigh Silverman, Best Direction of a Musical.

Violet, music by Jeanine Tesori (Caroline or Change) and libretto by Brian Crawley based on the short story, “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts. The musical premiered Off-Broadway in 1997 and won the Drama Critics Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award as Best Musical.

Violet American Airlines Theater 227 West 42nd Street, New York between Broadway and 8th Avenue. Tickets available at 50% off at TKTS, 47th Street and Times Square. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes without intermission.

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