Monday, November 30, 2015


By Toby Zinman



By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

It takes a brave theater critic to write a play, and a brave critic to review it—especially since Satchmo at the Waldorf is by Terry Teachout, the esteemed critic of the Wall Street Journal. So it’s both a pleasure and a relief to tell you it’s a great show.

This add-on to Wilma’s season comes from Long Wharf Theatre, directed by  Gordon Edelstein.  It stars John Douglas Thompson who plays Louis Armstrong, the world’s greatest trumpet player, as well as  his manager, and the musicians of the next generation, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie who think Armstrong is an Uncle Tom, a clown to entertain rich white folks.  Thompson shifts impressively between personality and personality, changing his voice, his accent, his bearing.

Satchmo is in his dressing room backstage at the Waldorf Astoria, a gig so posh he’s still amazed at his good fortune, even at the age of 70; his health is failing and the bio-drama’s device is to have him reminisce into a tape recorder.  We hear about his hard childhood (son of a whore in New Orleans), his stint in reform school where he learned to play the horn, through a complicated life with four wives, the mobsters who ran the nightclubs and the star of David he wears around his neck.

The man who was central to his life and career was  his manager, Joe Glazer; although we learn the truth of Glazer’s apparent betrayal, it is a truth Satchmo will never learn. “Work ‘em like dogs, treat ‘em like kings—that’s how you run a band.” He made Satchmo a star.

Most of what comes through is Armstrong’s love of music. Of the famous smile that could make audiences smile back: “I’m there in the cause of happiness.”

Teachout has written a biography of Armstrong, and packs a lot of material into 90 minutes;  some of the issues seem unresolved, but that may be the fault of life and not the script. Teachout is currently writing a biography of Duke Ellington, so stay tuned.



Wilma Theatre, Broad & Spruce Sts. Through Dec.2.  Tickets $39 - $54. Information: 215.546.7824 or,

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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