Recorded in Hollywood
Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Kirk Douglas Theatre
Through August 7
This high-spirited biopic of musical entrepreneur John Dolphin (Stu James) is part juke-box musical, part music history, and part a recreation of past performers and their hits. For those of us old enough to remember the songs and events, it’s a trip down memory lane.
The show — book by Dolphin’s grandson Jamelle Dolphin and Matt Donnelly, and music and lyrics by Andy Cooper — traces the flamboyant career of John Dolphin, which begins with his days as a brash young man who thinks he can conquer the world. It then moves through his launching of the record store which served as the engine of his career, to his meeting and marrying his wife Ruth (Jenna Gillespie), and finally to his spectacular fall from grace due to his philandering, swelled ego, and white racism. It culminates in his moral rebirth, as a black activist and community leader.
The musical features terrific performances by performers depicting stars from the past: Thomas Hobson as Sam Cooke, Wilkie Ferguson III as Jessie Blevin, and many others. Particularly memorable are Ferguson’s renditions of “Nature Boy” and “Earth Angel,” and Hobson’s “I’ll Come Running Back to You” and “Man of the Hour.”
James captures Dolphin’s warts-and-all complexity as well as his exuberance. Gillespie brings elegance, delicate beauty and fine vocal skills to the role of Ruth, who became Dolphin’s wife, the mother of his children, and his conscience. Also impressive is Eric B. Anthony as Percy Ivy, who thought Dolphin would make him a singing star, then turned homicidal when his dreams came to naught. And there’s also fine work from the ensemble, who portray some of the singing groups Dolphin discovered or hired.
The show is set in the era when white racism was blatant, vicious, and unrepenting, and Police Chief Parker promoted virulently racist policies. Ryan Murray and Tyler Ruebensaal play the bullying white police officers who are offended by “race music” and fraternization between whites and blacks, and who pursue Dolphin mercilessly.
Denise Dowse maneuvers the huge cast of 21 with finesse, Cassie Crump provides choreography that’s frenetic in the ensemble numbers and subtle in the dramatic ones, while Abdul Hamid Royal supplies expert musical direction. The show is a bit overlong, but worth it in the long run.
Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Boulevard, Culver City. Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. ; (213) 972-4488 or www.RecordedInHollywood.com. Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one fifteen minute intermission.