Friday, May 29, 2020

127. DOCTOR JAZZ. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975


Lola Falana, Hector Jaime Mercado.
 "In Lieu of Reviews"

Reviews of live theatre being impossible during these days of the pandemic, THEATRE'S LEITER SIDE is pleased to provide instead accounts of previous theatre seasons--encompassing the years 1970-1975-for theatre-hungry readers. If you'd like to know the background on how this previously unpublished series came to be and what its relationship is to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and revival between 1920 and 1950), please check the prefaces to any of the entries beginning with the letter “A.” See the list at the end of the current entry.

Lola Falana, Bobby Van, and company of Doctor Jazz.
DOCTOR JAZZ [Musical/Music/Prostitution/Race/Show Business/Southern] B/M/LY: Buster Davis; ADD. M/LY; King Oliver, Howard Melrose, Jack Coogan, J.L. Morgan, Eubie Blake, E. Ray Goetz, Harry von Tilzer; A.J. Piron, Swanstone, McCarren, and Morgan; D/CH: Donald McKayle; EPS: John Berry; S/C: Raoul Pene du Bois; L: Abe Feder; P: Cyma Rubin; T: Winter Garden Theatre; 3/19/75-3/22/75 (5)

A barrage of critical bombs fell on this “(mostly) disastrous” (Clive Barnes), “noisy, sluggish and senseless enterprise” (Douglas Watt). The show lasted less than a week.

The sexy, highly talented dancer Lola Falana (“a handgrenade of a woman,” said Barnes) was wasted, as were such other fine performers as Bobby Van and Lillian Hayman, in this misguided try at tracing the history of jazz, from its birth in a New Orleans cathouse district in 1917 to its performance in Chicago and New York.

Bobby Van, Lillian Hayman
The backstage story concerns a white, would-be trumpeter (Van), who discovers a poor, black, country girl named Edna Mae (Falana) doing menial tasks at her aunt’s Storyville whorehouse. He turns her into a successful singer-dancer in the show biz world of the big Northern cities, while he himself eventually realizes his horn-tooting ambitions back in Storyville.
Bobby Van, Joan Copeland.
The musical, ranging in time from 1917 to the mid-20s, was done with a careless sense of period, had a “flaccid” book, and even limper characters. Some decent old jazz standards were heard—the list of contributors is impressive—but Buster Davis’s original score was “pretty awful,” according to Watt. Donald McKayle’s staging was barely serviceable although his choreography received some favorable attention. Martin Gottfried, for one, said, “This is the dancingest new musical of the season.” But he also said that the story was told through too many vague and fragmented scenes, the evening lacked smooth continuity, and it ended as a “lavish, shallow, senseless product” of the Broadway show machine.
Despite the flack hitting the show, Lola Falana was nominated for a Best Actress, Musical, Tony Award, Raoul Pene du Bois was nominated for his costume designs, and McKayle for his choreography. Several actors, most notably Joan Copeland (pictured above), were cut from the show during its 42 previewis. 

Previous Entries:

Abelard and Helo/ise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement/
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta
L’Amante Anglais         
American Gothics
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little       
And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers
And Whose Little Boy Are You?
Anna K.
Anne of Green Gables
Any Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead
As You Like It
The Au Pair Man

Baba Goya [Nourish the Beast]
The Ballad of Johnny Pot
Barbary Shore
The Bar that Never Closes
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel
The Beauty Part
The Beggar’s Opera
Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellens
Be Kind to People Week
Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill
Bette Midler’s Clams on a Half-Shell Revue
Black Girl
Black Light Theatre of Prague
Black Picture Show
Black Sunlight
The Black Terror
Black Visions
Les Blancs
Blasts and Bravos: An Evening with H,L. Mencken
Blue Boys
Bob and Ray—The Two and Only
Boesman and Lena
The Boy Who Came to Leave
A Breeze from the Gulf
Brief Lives
Brother Gorski
Bullshot Crummond
The Burnt Flower Bed
Button, Button
Buy Bonds, Buster

The Cage
Candide (1)
Candide (2)
The Candyapple
Captain Brassbound’s Conversion
The Caretaker
La Carpa de los Raquichis
The Carpenters
The Castro Complex
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Changing Room
Charles Abbott and Son
Charley’s Aunt
Charlie Was Here and Now He’s Gone
Chemin de Fer
The Cherry Orchard
The Chickencoop Chinaman
The Children
Children! Children!
Children in the Rain
Children of the Wind
The Children’s Mass
A Chorus Line
The Chronicle of Henry VI: Part 1, Part II,
The Circle
Clarence Darrow
Cold Feet
Conditions of Agreement
Coney Island Cycle
The Constant Wife
The Contractor
The Contrast
The Constant Wife
The Country Girl
Crazy Now
The Creation of the World and Other Business
The Crucible
Crystal and Fox

Dames at Sea
The Dance of Death
Dance wi’Me/Dance with Me
A Day in the Life of Just about Everyone
Dear Nobody
Dear Oscar
The Desert Song
Diamond Studs
Different Times
The Dirtiest Show in Town
The Divorce of Judy and Jane
Do It Again!