From our friends at PURE Theatre…
PURE Theatre continues its VIRTUAL Season 18: Season of Hope with Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf
“To me, jazz got to be a happy music. Even when it’s about the bad part of life, it’s happy deep down…and that’s what makes it good.”
ABOUT THE PLAY
“See the write-up in the paper today? Man says I’m a ‘walking Smithsonian Institution of jazz.’ Well I’m walking—barely.” It’s 1971, and the greatest trumpet player in the world has just finished a set at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Now at the end of his career, Louis Armstrong reflects back on his life and the ever-evolving struggle to live with dignity as a Black musician in a White world. Based on the 2009 biography written by playwright Terry Teachout, Satchmo at the Waldorf is an intimate exploration of Armstrong’s life, legacy, and—above all—jazz.
“There is a line in Satchmo at the Waldorf in which the character of Joe Glaser, Armstrong’s longtime manager, says that he only knew two real geniuses, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, and that ‘he was Louie and Louie was him.’ And at the same time, Louis Armstrong, in the more than 40 years he spent working alongside Joe Glaser, never once was invited into Glaser’s home. It’s this dichotomy that makes Satchmo at the Waldorf such a powerful piece of theatre in both its exploration of the extraordinary life of the world’s greatest trumpet player and its obvious relevance to today,” says Sharon Graci, the play’s director.
“As an actor, you come to love your characters, even the ones who, in life, you probably wouldn’t like very much,” says Douglas Scott Streater, regarding his role. “Playing Louis Armstrong, I don’t really have that problem. He was always someone I admired, but through the course of rehearsals, and building this character, I’ve come to deeply respect not only his artistry, but his stamina, his drive and ambition, and the unapologetic happiness he felt playing music.”
Teachout’s play finds Armstrong just months before his death in July 1971. He is frail, using oxygen after his show, and frantically recording memories for a new book he’s writing on his life. From his dressing room backstage, Armstrong recounts his life, including his run-ins with the mob, his relentless, four decade, 300 gigs per year schedule, the wounding criticism he received from fellow Black musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and the deep betrayal he suffered at the hands of his longtime manager and friend Joe Glaser. According to Streater, “With every rehearsal, my respect for Armstrong deepens. He came from the humblest beginnings, and he made music in one of the most unfavorable times to be a Black man in this country, and yet his faith in the power of music to spark happiness never wavered. He saw real value in bringing joy to people’s lives. He was vocal about civil rights, calling out President Johnson, and he saw the bitter irony in the fact that the color of his skin kept him from getting a table or a room at the restaurants and hotels where he was the draw.”
Like most one-person plays, Satchmo at the Waldorf requires the actor to take on the formidable task of embodying more than one character and carrying the entire, full-length play alone. “This is my first one-person play,” says Streater. “Sharon says that her ambition for the PURE Core Ensemble is that each one of us perform a solo show. So I guess this one’s mine. Yes, it’s daunting, but it’s also a really powerful experience. I’m enjoying the challenge of building three unique characters and I like the idea of being up there alone. I’m also really excited to film the piece. There’s nothing good about being a professional actor in the middle of a pandemic, and especially being an actor who predominantly works on stage, so the chance to keep working, and to keep growing artistically, is really exciting.”
Terry Teachout is a writer, playwright, and drama critic for The Wall Street Journal. His 2009 biography Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong was the first comprehensive biography of Louis Armstrong’s life. The play adaptation, Satchmo at the Waldorf, premiered in 2011. Before becoming a full-time writer, he played jazz bass professionally in Kansas City.
Virtual performances are available for a set period of time. Ticket holders must purchase and view the play within the performance window. Satchmo at the Waldorf will be available for viewing from December 17, 2020 through January 2, 2021. Each ticket holder will receive a unique viewing link that can only be used once.
Tickets for Satchmo at the Waldorf are on sale now at puretheatre.org and at the PURE Theatre box office. Tickets start at $15. PURE is asking the ticket buyer to reflect on how many people are watching the production and what they feel comfortable spending. The show is also available through the PURE All-Access Flex Pass, which provides access to all remaining plays in the season as well as a multitude of other virtual offerings. Remaining plays in PURE’s 18th season include Little Gem by Elaine Murphy (January 2021), Gloria: A Life by Emily Mann (April 2021), and The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayer (May/June 2021).
Additional information about Satchmo at the Waldorf and the All-Access Flex Pass can be found on PURE’s website at puretheatre.org or by calling the box office at 843.723.4444 (available Tuesday through Friday 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm).