Craig Wallace Is About To Break Out (Or Welcome To First Preview)
Ladies and Gentlemen: We are on the brink of witnessing something extraordinary. As we get ready to ring in the new season with tonight’s first preview of our 2016-17 opening show, Satchmo At The Waldorf, those of us who’ve been watching run-through after run-through – designers, director, creative staff – all believe we are about to behold a truly breakout performance (quite potentially, of course, with an added "Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise," as a colleague used to wisely qualify) a career-defining turn; the role of a lifetime.
You’ve heard the phrases before, of course, from people in the press; it’s critics who generally opine as to when an actor matriculates from one stage of stature to a new lumen of limelight. Contributing artists and surrounding staff generally acknowledge, this early on, that there’s still work to be done; that it’s just a first preview we're approaching; that there will be moments to tweak; technical adjustments to make during the day before additional previews at night reveal yet another aspect to refine; that’s what notes are for, after all. And then we'll officially "open" on Monday the 29th. So artists and artistic leaders usually hold their tongue, or temper their pronouncements to the public.
But I am compelled to share aloud what many of us close to our star have been saying for the past weeks: that we are witnessing something special. One of Washington’s most dependably powerful, stalwart Shakespearean and contemporary actors is about to transform his standing before our eyes. In giving us a portrait of legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong as you’ve never seen this legend before, so too are we about to see a side of actor Craig Wallace that we’ve never had a chance to witness. It’s his first solo show, we should note. And when you see someone you’ve grown accustomed to admiring as part of a vast ensemble – if you’ve been attending classical theater at the Shakespeare or Folger Theatres over the past two decades, then you’ve probably seen Craig Wallace in one of 20 roles he’s taken on as one our city’s busiest classical actors – it's exhilarating that only now is there a chance to appreciate what the spotlight is revealing about the artist all alone. Or maybe you've recently caught Craig in two different Pulitzer Prize winning history plays over the past season at Arena Stage or Round House (All the Way and When Father Comes Home From the Wars...), or his leading roles in intimate race dramas at Fords Theatre or Woolly Mammoth before then. Craig Wallace has never had a role like Louis, and we’ve never seen this model theater citizen quite so unleashed, in his full charismatic element. Shall I leave it at that? Not belabor the excitement and anticipation?
I’ve produced or presented a great many solo shows with bravura performanc-es over the years – Jim Brochu as Zero Mostel, Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meier (both of whom won Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Performance) Josh Kornbluth, Sandra Bernhard, Jon Spelman, and just last season alone at Mosaic, we saw three Voices From a Changing Middle East solo performances that bowled audiences over; Aaron Davidman in Wrestling Jerusalem; Gassan Abbas in I Shall Not Hate,
and Leila Buck in Hkeelee. With Craig’s turn in Satchmo, we get to see our actor bring to life three different characters – each larger than life in their own right – and give us an indelible portrait and invaluable survey of an iconic artist’s life as he’s looking back, in his dressing room, after one of his final performances in his storied career.
We are going see to see sides of an actor – and the smiles of an actor – in a wholly new context, as he channels one of the most familiar and least understood celebrities of the 20th Century. Craig is tapping into the inner sources of joy and rage, mischief and inscrutability that comprise Louis Armstrong, finding in himself an almost identical twin, separated by several generations but linked by a common simpatico and one killer, deeply infectious grin. Craig has an Inner Armstrong that’s downright uncanny. Can you imagine a better suited actor to bring the great Satchmo to life?
The performance is made all the more majestic by its masterful range, as it captures not only our country’s greatest trumpeter, but the electric personalities of Armstrong’s mercurial, foul-tempered manager, Joe Glaser and the cool, beat, unapologetically combative, syncopated patois of Miles Davis. Three powerful portraits from one model theater citizen coming into his own with this extraordinary performance.
I can’t wait for you to see this show and take in the art of it. Stay to discuss the issues, of course – And we’ve got over 20 opportunities for free discussions with jazz scholars, and sociologically-steeped observers on the plight of the African American artist in our society, and the fractious alliance between African Americans and American Jews – But the real pleasure in Satchmo is watching an actor nail his moment; getting his shot to propel his artistry to a next level and not giving away the moment, but seizing it; taking his place center stage in our city filled with amazing talent.
Craig Wallace is about to emerge as just a little bit more amazing than we ever knew. So don’t miss it; or him. You’ll be glad to have seen two legendary performances; Armstrong and Wallace, now joined at the hip creatively, symbiotically, in an unforgettable portrayal.
Happy Season Two To All!