Tuesday, April 9, 2019

BIRDLAND BLUE - Robey Theatre, Downtown L.A. - Review

In 1959 the biggest star in jazz was trumpeter, bandleader and composer Miles Davis, and New York’s nightclub, BIRDLAND, was the center of the jazz world. This drama with music takes place there, one evening in August, 1959. 
You cross the threshold of the Robey Theatre and are transported back into an actual nightclub with round tables and chairs, a tiny stage, and surrounding you rough walls of brick and plaster. Somewhere in the gallery there is soft jazz playing and soon various men wander by carrying music cases or musical instruments, pre-occupied with their own thoughts.
Far to your right, in a small ante-room with a sofa and desk, one man sits alone, his head drooping, a trumpet hanging loosely in his hand, his demeanor sad and thoughtful. When he stirs and rises he plays a short riff on the instrument that resonates through the space with a mournful sound. Yes, here is Miles Davis and for one brief night you get a backstage peek at the reality of the pressures faced by this innovative artist and see that music is not his only challenge.
As the leader of his sextet he must deal with five rebellious musicians, a devious club owner, a smirking racist cop, drugs galore, and a shapely young woman journalist who is not averse to discarding her objectivity and flirting with a legendary genius. Still, when the sextet finally plays its promised set the club reverberates with a nostalgic reminder of the time when jazz was the ultimate musical trip.
Heading the superb cast is Marcus Clark-Oliver as the mythic Miles Davis; Damon Rutledge is an amusingly philosophical Julian “Cannoball” Adderly, and Jermaine Alexander a serious John Coltrane. Eddie Goines as Wynton Kelley, Micheal David Ricks as Jimmy Cobb and Rogelio Douglas III as Paul Chambers are impressive. Noteworthy are Charles Isen (club owner), Tiffany Coty (reporter) and Darrell Philip (sleazy cop).
Plaudits to author Randy Ross, PhD, who also plays sax offstage with drummer Ricardo “Ricky” Mowatt and bassist Marion Newton. The show was developed in the Robey Theatre Playwrights’ Lab, and has strong imaginative direction by producer Ben Guillory.
At Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Downtown. Tickets: (866) 811-4111 or www.thelatc.org
Color photo by Ian Foxx

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