WSJ Critic Terry Teachout To Direct Own Satchmo At The Waldorf For Dramaworks

 Satchmo at the Waldorf -- off-Broadway prodction / Photo By T. Charles Erickson

John Douglas Thompson in Satchmo at the Waldorf / Long Wharf Theatre production /  Photograph by T Charles Erickson

By Bill Hirschman

Terry Teachout, the drama critic for The Wall Street Journal who has championed regional theater as a major force on the national level, will make his directorial debut next spring helming Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production of his own play, Satchmo at the Waldorf.

TeachoutThe biographical play about jazz legend Louis Armstrong was announced on the West Palm Beach theater’s coming season for May 13 – June 12, 2016, but no other details had been revealed.

The one-performer play had considerable success off-Broadway in 2014 earning strong reviews for actor John Douglas Thompson. It was produced subsequently in Orlando, Lenox, New Haven, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and will be mounted next season in San Francisco, Chicago and Colorado Springs. To read our review of the New York production click here.

Teachout, who has written three opera libretti and authored several arts-related biographies including one on Armstrong, is purportedly the only critic for a national newspaper who regularly travels the country reviewing regional theaters.

Since seeing The Chairs in 2008, he has lauded Dramaworks’ productions of The Effects Of Gamma Rays, A Raisin In The Sun, My Old Lady, Old Times and Freud’s Last Session. Earlier this season, he appeared in a question-and-answer program for Dramaworks’ patrons. Producing Artistic Director William Hayes wrote in an email Monday that part of the deal is that Teachout cannot review Dramaworks’ shows “for a long while.”

Hayes was quoted in a news release, “I invited Terry to direct the play because he seemed like an inspired choice…. He obviously knows the piece better than anyone. He’s very familiar with our theatre, as he’s been coming here for years. During that time, I’ve gotten to know him and we’ve had fascinating conversations about theatre, about productions we had both seen and he had reviewed. We were often on the same page, and I was deeply impressed by his acuity. He’s also talked to me about Satchmo at the Waldorf, and I think he’ll bring new insights and a fresh perspective to his play.”

The release quotes Teachout as saying: “I was surprised and apprehensive when Bill asked me to lunch one day and said that he wanted me to direct the play. I staged a run-through of an incomplete version of Satchmo in a workshop setting in 2011, but that’s the only time I’ve ever directed anything, anywhere. It seemed like a really interesting process, though, and when the New England premiere was mounted in Lenox the following year, I went to every single rehearsal – even the tech rehearsals. I also talked in great detail to Gordon Edelstein, the director, about the process as it was unfolding.

“I had a feeling that a time might come someday when I’d want to try directing the show myself, and that it would be smart for me to pay attention. When Bill approached me about staging Satchmo, I knew I’d never get a better chance than this — to work with a company I admire in a theatre I know well.

“He’s a persuasive guy, and he said, ‘We won’t toss you in at the deep end without a life vest.’ That sealed the deal. By the end of lunch, I’d either talked myself into it or let Bill talk me into it – I’m not sure which!”

Hayes explained in an email Monday, “As artistic director, I am present and supportive during rehearsals. It is my job to monitor and evaluate progress, and to be another set of eyes and a sounding board for the director.”

Teachout, a native of southeast Missouri, was a professional jazz bassist for eight years, and served as a dance and music critic, an editorial writer and a member of the National Council on the Arts.

“I’ve loved all the productions so far,” Teachout is quoted as saying. “Of course, I’ve always had notions of my own about how the play might be done, but I never felt like they were right and everybody else’s ideas were wrong – they were just different. So when I stage Satchmo, I’m not going to act like I’m the author and this is my big chance to finally get it all right. I don’t feel that way

“Instead, I want to approach the play strictly as a director, a guy who comes in, sits down, and says, ‘Okay, here we all are. Here’s this script. Now, what can we do together to make it work?’ I do have some preliminary production ideas based on my knowledge of PBD’s auditorium and the designers we’ve picked, but they’re completely up for grabs. I’m going to start from scratch – working on this play, in this theatre, with these people. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m grateful beyond words for it.”

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