Terry Teachout's Satchmo at the Waldorf Will Blow Its Horn in MA; John Douglas Thompson Is Louis Armstrong

By Kenneth Jones
10 Aug 2012

Satchmo at the Waldorf, a one-man play about jazz musician Louis Armstrong, will appear at Shakespeare & Company's Tina Packer Playhouse in Lenox, MA, Aug. 22-Sept. 16, prior to a run in New Haven, CT. John Douglas Thompson plays dual roles — the famed trumpeter and his manager — in the 1971-set play by Terry Teachout, a biographer and drama critic.



This is Teachout's first play, which is getting its New England premiere. He's better known as the drama critic for The Wall Street Journal. Gordon Edelstein directs, as he will at Long Wharf Theatre, where he is artistic director, later in the fall.

Thomspon is the acclaimed OBIE Award-winning actor who recently appeared at the Goodman Theatre in The Iceman Cometh. He played Richard III at S&Co. in 2010, and won his OBIE for his portrayal of Othello in a 2009 production at Theater for a New Audience (later reprised for S&Co).

Here's how Shakespeare and Company characterizes Satchmo at the Waldorf: "The time is March of 1971. Louis Armstrong, the greatest jazz musician of the twentieth century, is backstage at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, preparing for what will be his last performance. And though he was a radiantly optimistic man who was rarely seen in public without a smile, it turns out that there was more to Satchmo — much, much more — than met the eye..."

Thompson plays the double role of Armstrong and Joe Glaser, his mob-connected manager. "As Armstrong relaxes in his dressing room, we listen to him recount his rise to fame, and wonder whether he paid too high a price for it," according to production notes. "Teachout shows you the private Armstrong, charming and angry — and bluntly, shockingly honest."

A special "localized press opening" is Aug. 24. New York and other national press will be invited to review the show when it transfers to the Long Wharf Theatre (playing Oct. 3-Nov. 4) in New Haven, CT.

"Between 1947 and his death in 1971, Armstrong taped hundred of after-hours conversations with his wife, friends, and colleagues in which he revealed a very different side of his personality," Teachout, also the author of the 2009 biography "Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong," said in production notes. "Some of these tapes are startlingly intimate, and many of them contain very strong language that Armstrong never used on stage."

Satchmo at the Waldorf is billed by Teachout as "a work of fiction, but it is based on and informed by the facts of the lives of Armstrong and Glaser, and though and I made up most of the dialogue, it closely resembles the way they talked in private."

The production team includes costume designer Ilona Somogyi, stage managers Diane Healy & Hope Rose Kelly, set designer Lee Savage, lighting designer Matthew Adelson, sound designer John Gromada, sound designer/board operator Mike Pfeiffer and light board operators Derek Bever & C. Clara Patterson.

For more information, visit Shakespeare.org.