Friday, May 5, 2017

Satchmo at the Waldorf—Triangle Productions!--NE Portland

“What a Wonderful…” Entertainer!

This one-man show, starring Salim Sanchez, tracing events in Louis Armstong’s life, is written by Terry Teachout and directed and designed by Donald Horn (Triangle’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their location in The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot to the West of the building), through May 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

It certainly became a more “wonderful world” when Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (Salim Sanchez) debuted into it around the turn of the 1900’s, and a much sadder one after he passed in the early 70’s.  Although his trumpet was his instrument, his gravelly voice was his unique trademark, using it to good advantage in the mid-1960’s, when he recorded the title song from the Broadway show, “Hello, Dolly!” and it knocked the Beatles off the chart as the number one single.

A lot of African-American “firsts” were attributed to him in the mid-30’s, including writing an autobiography, featured billing in a film, “Pennies From Heaven,” and host for a nationally-sponsored radio show.  But his upbringing and personal life were less than stellar:  A mother who was a prostitute, a father who abandoned them, four wives from the entertainment industry and poor health.  He, of course, had to face one of America’s biggest disgraces, not treating those of a different race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, et. al. as an equal (seems we are still faced with that dilemma).

And his professional life was, early on, on the shady side as well, being employed by the likes of notorious gangsters, such as Al Capone and Dutch Schultz.  But he loved the music and the tours, even more than the money he was making.  And he immersed himself in all kinds of music including, of course, Jazz and Blues, but also ragtime, skat, swing, country, classical and even, grand opera.  Like all great artists, the art, his music, was “the thing,” which obsessed him and captured his heart and soul.  “It is a poor thing, but mine own,” might have been his mantra.  He was, truly, one of a kind…never to see his like again!

But in this production, we not only see the man, as he relates his story, but two individuals, which Sanchez’s plays, too, that put this icon in perspective.  Most importantly, there was Joe Glaser, his agent and manger for 40 years, who he trusted completely with his finances and bookings.  Joe knew talent and seemed to have treated him fairly and always had high praise for “his find.”  Miles Davis, another great jazz musician, had a different view.  He considered “Satchmo” a clown, a panderer to white folks who, he felt, never really represented or understood the black struggle.  Whoever he was, he was one for the Ages!

Sanchez has the unenviable job of switching back and forth between characters, sometimes within a sentence or two, with hardly a beat to separate them.  He does it with posture and voice (and a bit of help from lighting:  Trevor Sargent and Mandara Nott).  His smooth transitions are one of the highlights of the show.  He is a master at it.  And he does have that unique voice down to a tee.  My friend asked him, after the show, his secret to not losing his voice and he said, “apple-vinegar” (oops, was that a spoiler.  I think not, just one of the assets a performer employs to transform into a character).  Anyway, Sanchez is amazing and so is the Man with the Horn.

And the other Horn, Don, that is, has created a great atmosphere in which to present this show.  The set is full of odds and ends to give us a realistic view of the workings of a performer.  And the little bits of business that Horn has conceived for Sanchez, keeps the play flowing and grounded.  Now, if only the rest of the globe were in “tune” with such beautiful music, “what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.”

I recommend this show, but it does have strong language for anyone offend by this.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.