Gavin Gregory as King Joe Oliver helps change Louis Armstrong’s life in Miami New Drama’s ‘A Wonderful World.’
Music

Miami New Drama’s ‘A Great World’ will get its long-delayed opening

Gavin Gregory as King Joe Oliver helps change Louis Armstrong’s life in Miami New Drama’s ‘A Wonderful World.’

Gavin Gregory as King Joe Oliver helps change Louis Armstrong’s life in Miami New Drama’s ‘A Great World.’

In March 2020, on a Friday the thirteenth, Miami New Drama’s world premiere musical, “A Wonderful World,” had a last preview efficiency. The glitzy gala opening of the $1.5 million present about jazz nice Louis Armstrong was set for the next night time.

This time, the present didn’t go on.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a lot of life on maintain, world premieres included. However now, after virtually two years of down time and a contemporary week of previews at Miami Seaside’s Colony Theatre, “A Great World” is ready to open finally, on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.

With a ebook by former Miamian Aurin Squire, and greater than three dozen songs orchestrated by Annastasia Victory and Michael O. Mitchell, the musical follows the modern and vastly influential Armstrong from his boyhood in New Orleans to his 1971 loss of life in New York Metropolis at age 69.

Squire, a writer-producer on the CBS tv sequence “The Good Battle” and “Evil,” tells Armstrong’s story in chapters, every from the angle of one in all his 4 wives: Daisy Parker, a risky New Orleans prostitute; Lil Hardin Armstrong, a Chicago pianist who helped polish his picture; Hollywood-glamorous Alpha Smith, the one spouse who left him; and former Cotton Membership singer Lucille Wilson, whose house with him in Queens is now the Louis Armstrong Home Museum, a Nationwide Historic Landmark.

Of the person himself, Squire says, “He led a quintessential American life. He was one of the best at balancing the white audiences who paid his payments however not dropping his credibility amongst Black audiences … His virtually 70 years as a jazz musician was like 140 years for a traditional individual.”

Adam Koch’s set for “A Great World” has been sitting on the Colony Theatre’s stage for the previous 21 months, awaiting the return of the artists who would convey Armstrong’s world to life. However facets of the manufacturing, its resonance and the artists themselves have modified in the course of the lengthy pandemic pause.

“Aurin packed a knife into Louis Armstrong’s trumpet case. This can be a very politically and socially astute play about America,” says Michel Hausmann, cofounder and creative director of Miami New Drama. “That is the best play for the world because it begins once more. However sure issues shouldn’t be seasonal. Confronting the oppression of non-whites, particularly Black individuals, is pressing.”

About half of the unique “Great World” solid was unable to return to the present on account of different commitments.

“Some issues let you be nimble, however a musical isn’t one in all them. We needed to coordinate the schedules of no less than 50 individuals,” Hausmann says. “We additionally determined to push the present nearer to the tip of the 12 months, as a result of we thought the autumn can be an experimental interval with individuals going out once more. I’m glad we waited.”

Juson Williams, who appeared together with his JW’s Inspirational Singers on “America’s Bought Expertise” in June, continues to be starring as Armstrong, the jazz genius and gravel-voiced singer whose participating public persona made him a global star with crossover enchantment. Miami jazz singer Nicole Henry is again as Alpha Smith, and Homestead-born Darlene Hope is once more enjoying Lucille Wilson. New to principal roles are Christina Sajous as Daisy Parker and Allison Semmes as Lil Hardin.

“Once I got here again, I began to present him extra grace,” Williams says, of the Armstrong function. “These varieties of individuals have been harm. He harm individuals and didn’t notice it. Discovering that was therapeutic.

“I’m bringing a brand new degree into the present, from not being in theater for 2 years. I imagine that.”

Director Christopher Renshaw has seen development in Williams.

“Juson has extra knowledge. He’s considering extra deeply. He has modified in a great way,” Renshaw says.

Hope, grateful to be again, has additionally undergone a shift in perspective.

“A few of the techniques I used to be utilizing earlier than really feel stale now. You need to discover contemporary causes for what you do, need to hear extra deeply. Performing is being. Performing resides,” she says. “Popping out of the pandemic, the place we’ve all lived 1,000 lifetimes in a 12 months and a half, you’ve gotten extra to attract from than earlier than … I really feel extra related to Lucille. She’s not a monument; she’s a human being.”

Henry — whose eclectic newest CD, “Time to Love Again” — was recorded in the course of the pandemic, saved her music profession going whereas doing periodic creative check-ins along with her “Great World” function.

“Character growth may be infinite. I attempted to go to Alpha every so often,” she says. “Being a vocalist is such singular work. It’s fantastic to be again right here, to be a part of a unit. Everyone is so joyous. We really feel much more related.”

Requested about Sajous and Semmes, the 2 new “wives” within the present, Squire calls their contributions “outstanding” whereas appreciating the work of their predecessors.

“They offer their roles a very totally different tone, [refreshing] among the ideas I had. They bring about all these colours to the roles. It’s like evaluating Picasso to Matisse,” he says.

Sajous, who has been in 5 Broadway reveals, was drawn to “A Great World” and the character of Daisy Parker — about whom little is understood — due to Squire’s script.

“The story feels very linear, particularly for musical theater. I’m impressed with how Aurin makes use of time – he injects a whole lot of story into small scenes,” she says. “It feels so vigorous. The pacing is superb. That is one thing I needed to do … Working from the within out, I had to determine how one can combine a lady I don’t know, different girls and myself to convey her to life in a relatable method.”

Semmes, a singer-actor who carried out in two Broadway reveals and toured as Diana Ross in “Motown the Musical,” says “A Great World” made her rethink her pre-pandemic determination to stroll away from musical theater.

“This story feels so acquainted, and it’s like all the celebrities have aligned … The writing received me … it’s yummy. I related with Lil Hardin. I’m from Chicago and a household of jazz musicians. My grandmother knew or interviewed Lil,” Semmes says.

Hausmann thought the unique “Great World” solid was “excellent,” however he sees the worth in coming again to the present with new artists within the combine.

“The brand new solid permits us to revisit the play in a very new mild,” he says. “It’s been a blessing to have some solid members discovering the play for the primary time, and the inventive staff has additionally been wanting on the present with contemporary eyes … Hopefully, this may turn out to be part of the American theater canon.”

“A Great World” started as an concept dreamed up by the present’s Tony Award-nominated British director Renshaw and author Andrew Delaplaine, whose sister Renee and brother-in-law Thomas E. Rodgers Jr. are main traders and retain the business rights to future productions of the musical. Hausmann launched Renshaw and Squire, who hit it off creatively and made a present.

Renshaw, who lives in Miami Seaside close to the Colony, has directed a “King and I” revival and “Taboo” on Broadway. He says he was in denial at first when “A Great World” closed abruptly, however that Hausmann “saved the religion and promised me it will reopen.”

The director has discovered he’s having fun with the work extra as he blends the performances of authentic and new solid members. Given the teachings of the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the push for higher fairness, variety and inclusion in theater, Renshaw thinks the musical “feels extra related, extra vital. I’ve the privilege of directing a household of Black artists in a particular piece that may assist with the therapeutic the world nonetheless wants. Even within the first quantity [the title song], the lyrics have a resonance as a imaginative and prescient for a greater world.”

Whereas maintaining together with his demanding TV writing profession, Squire frolicked in the course of the pandemic tightening the script: “We modified some music, tones, transitions.”

Squire hopes that “A Great World” will endure and have a life, whether or not in London, New York Metropolis or elsewhere, however his present purpose is to “have an incredible manufacturing absolutely realized right here,” in order that sooner or later the standard route of musicals coming from Broadway to Miami can typically be reversed.

The set was already constructed, however labor, personnel, a big solid and seasonal housing in Miami Seaside earlier than, throughout and after Artwork Basel will make “A Great World” the costliest manufacturing within the firm’s season of 4 world premieres, in response to Miami New Drama managing director Nicholas Richberg.

“It wouldn’t have been potential to provide one thing on this scale with out Tom Rodgers,” he says.

Rodgers, an area entrepreneur who got interested within the musician’s story after studying Laurence Bergreen’s hefty biography, “Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life,” calls Squire’s script “fabulous.”

“He got here up with the angle of telling his life story by means of the eyes of Louis’ 4 wives. The biography simply follows him round,” Rodgers says. “Most individuals will acknowledge each tune within the present. I hope we will take it one other step farther. I feel [the creative team] has greater visions this time round … It’s a really worthwhile story about music historical past and jazz historical past.”

When you go

WHAT: Miami New Drama manufacturing of “A Great World,” by Aurin Squire

WHEN: By way of Jan. 16, 2022. Remaining previews are 8 p.m. Dec. 9-10, then it opens 8 p.m. Dec. 11. After opening, performances are 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 1 p.m. and eight p.m. Saturdays, and three p.m. Sundays.

WHERE: Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Street, Miami Seaside

COST: $51.50-$91.50 (consists of $6.50 service price)

SAFETY PROTOCOLS: Masks required, plus a destructive COVID-19 PCR take a look at, destructive COVID-19 antigen take a look at or proof of vaccination. For extra particulars, go to miaminewdrama.org/show/a-wonderful-world.

INFORMATION: 305-674-1040; miaminewdrama.org

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit supply of theater, dance, visible arts, music and performing arts information.

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