Currently, Broadway audiences are watching Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart snub the royal lackeys who want to turn him into a dull court composer. Now a new play, premiering at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, looks at a pair of modern musicians who chose to follow their own drummers as well.
In Fathers and Sons, a biography-based fantasy by J. Rufus Caleb ending its scheduled run Feb. 20, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard and Leadbelly all find their talents and loyalties put to the test. Act one shows Hendrix, who once played in Little Richard's backing band, returning to the band after discovering his new style. Author Caleb imagines "what if" Little Richard had called a special jam session to set the upstart young guitarist straight. Act two of Fathers and Sons shows folksinger Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) rebelling against John Lomax, the white folklorist who discovered him.
Throughout, music by all three composers is played, both live and via recording. The first act is titled "The Rehearsal: A Fantasy"; act two is titled "Midnight Special."
According to Playwrights Theatre spokesperson LucyAnn Saltzman, "The Rehearsal" goes all the way back to 1994, when it was produced on WNYC Radio in New York and directed there by John Pietrowski, the theatre's producing artistic director. Susan Fenichell directs the current staging, which has sets and costumes by Louisa Thompson and lighting by Mark Barton. Performances began Feb. 3 for an official opening Feb. 4.
Other works by Caleb include My Dungeon Shook and the TV movie "Benny's Place." Now in its 14th season, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey specializes in developing new plays, mostly in concert readings though occasionally as full productions. For tickets ($18) and information on Fathers and Sons at Playwrights Theatre of NJ, 33 Green Village Road in Madison, call (973) 514-1787, ext. 30.
-- By David Lefkowitz