Terry Teachout traces his interest in Louis Armstrong to the time his mother called him in from outdoors to see Armstrong sing (probably “Hello, Dolly”) on the Ed Sullivan Show. His mother beckoned him with the sage admonition, “He won’t be around forever.”
By the same token, if you are in the vicinity of New York City, or visiting some time soon, I urge you to come in and see Terry Teachout’s wonderful play, Satchmo at the Waldorf, now in performance at the Westside Theater. It won’t be around forever.
The play follows up on Teachout’s biography of Armstrong, Pops. Depicting Armstrong at the end of his career looking back, Satchmo at the Waldorf is a one-man play starring John Douglas Thompson as Armstrong. In the course of the play Thompson also portrays Armstrong manager Joe Glaser and, to a lesser extent, Armstrong critic Miles Davis.
The play is full of pain and humor. It is, in its own understated way, a meditation on appearance versus reality, or appearance and reality, and art and its audience. It is, to say it slightly differently, full of life. We saw the play last night and loved it.
Watching Thompson’s performance, I kept thinking in the clichéd terms riveting and tour de force. I am in good company, as they are the words words that Nanci Callahan resorts to in her review of the play. Indeed, they are on the money, but they don’t quite do Thompson’s performance justice. Pete Hempstead escapes the bounds of cliché in his review with the inspired tour de megaforce. It is a brilliant, moving performance. What a privilege to see it with our own eyes.
The New York Times has posted a brief clip of Thompson performing the role here. Teachout and Thompson talk about the play in the Theater Talk video below.