Meet Louis ‘Satchmo’
Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 2:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 2:26 p.m.
Playwright and actor Danny Mullen of Charlotte, N.C., will transport his audience back in time to trumpeter Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong's dressing room just after one of his concerts in the one-act play, "A Tuff Shuffle Backstage with Louis Armstrong."
* What: The play, “A Tuff Shuffle Backstage with Louis Armstrong.”
* When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
* Where: Hippodrome Theatre, 25 SE 2nd Place.
* Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 at the door.
* Information: Visit www.ghostlight-theatre.org.
The play, which takes an intimate look at the legendary trumpet player as the audience becomes part of the play, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Hippodrome Theatre at 25 SE 2nd Place. Tickets are $10 online at www.ghostlight-theatre.org. and $15 at the door. There will be strong language, so the play is not suitable for children under age 13.
Armstrong (1901-1971), nicknamed "Satchmo" or "Pops," was a trumpet player, singer, band leader, actor, comedian and one of the most influential jazz artist in history. Born in New Orleans, he became one of the most beloved entertainers in the world.
Mullen, 54, said "A Tuff Shuffle," which captures Armstrong in his dressing room after a concert in 1957 in Grand Forks, N.D., has been shown throughout the United States and abroad. Mullen, also a college professor, was a featured artist at the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Mullen said his extensive research uncovered unknown facts about Armstrong, including his civil rights activism and his very public condemnation of the 1957 Little Rock, Ark., incident, in which nine African-American students were mistreated and prohibited from entering Central High School in Little Rock. Mullen said Armstrong grew up under Jim Crow laws that brought about the systematic discrimination against blacks in the South in the late 1800s after the Civil War.
"Armstrong is enraged by the 1957 Little Rock Crisis," Mullen said. "He felt compelled to speak up."
Mullen said the play speaks to Armstrong's personal life, and of course, his music. Featured songs will include "Black and Blue," "A Kiss to Build a Dream On," "What a Wonderful World," "Someday You Will be Sorry" and "Hello, Dolly!," which won a 1964 Grammy Award for Male Vocal Performance.
Mullen said Armstrong lived in poverty in the racist Jim Crow South, but didn't become a bitter man.
"He was a kind man who embraced the good in everyone," Mullen said. "His voice was very rough and his heart is what you hear."
Continued Mullen, "Armstrong would say, ‘Love is the key. The secret ingredient to society.' "
"A Tuff Shuffle" is being presented by the Gainesville-based Ghostlight Theatre Company and sponsored by the city of Gainesville Cultural Arts Council.
Aran Graham, producer of the event and president and artistic director of Ghostlight Theatre, said Ghostlight is a non-profit organization formed last February with a mission to produce works of substance that illuminate good virtues and cultivate future leaders in the arts.
Graham has performed in plays at the Hippodrome and the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, where he directed "Oleanna" in 2011. Graham, who now lives in Sarasota, also served as a stage supervisor at the Phillips Center at the University of Florida.
Graham said "A Tuff Shuffle" takes place in Armstrong's dressing room after a concert, where Armstrong typically held court before a crowd of friends and fans.
"In his one-man show, Mullen has contrived a collection of anecdotes and reflections that reveal the rich and complex story of the man behind the horn," Graham said. "He interacts with the audience as if they were with him in the dressing room. He unwinds after his performance, cooks a little bit, sings a little bit and talks about the intimate details of his life."
"It is an intimate, but wide-ranging, remarkably frank and fearless autobiographical monologue," Graham said, "punctuated with brief, but bracing, reprises of Armstrong's greatest hits."