RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD: A TRUE L.A. STORY
INTERVIEW: JAMELLE DOLPHIN AND LOU SPISTO
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
The new musical Recorded in Hollywood returns for L.A. audiences and receives an all-new production since its first incarnation as a 99-seat production in 2015. Broadway veteran Stu James (Benny in RENT, national tour of The Color Purple) will reprise the role of black entrepreneur and music mogul John Dolphin. Joining the team this time around is Broadway and West End producer Lou Spisto (Love Letters, You Can’t Take It With You, The Glass Menagerie, Rocky, Big Fish and Strangers on a Train) who reshaped this show by adding a lot of new talent, reshaping much of the book and a fair amount of the music. In this Tin Pan L.A. exclusive, Lou Spisto and creator Jamelle Dolphin discuss the history, development, collaboration and upcoming 2016 production of Recorded in Hollywood.
Tell me about Recorded in Hollywood in a nutshell?
LOU: Recorded in Hollywood is about a man named John Dolphin who lived in Los Angeles. It’s about his time, his music and the music of the era. And it’s a story about how he became a leader in the community. The story of how a man who came to town to make money and to make his name in the music business, to ultimately begin and became a leader for civil rights, for Los Angeles, and specifically for the South Central community.
It’s as much as story about the music of the era and dance of the era and the times in which dolphin lived as it is a story of civil rights. The message of the power of music as well as the some of the struggles we continue to see today in communities—it’s as timely and timeless as ever.
As a producer what interests you most about Recorded in Hollywood?
LOU: When I took a look at the material and what they were able to accomplish I was taken with the show. The show works on so many levels, and I have to say not every musical that I’ve worked on or any other musical works on this many levels.
First of all it’s very entertaining, the music of the era is exciting and there aren’t many musicals that have explored early R&B and early rock’n roll. We might refer to this as the ‘black sound’ that Dolphin really brought to the white community. But he was also involved with white groups; he was broad in his tastes. The music gets to play around with all the material from the period and we have a wonderful score by Andy Cooper. With the combination of Andy’s music and the music from the period, it’s a knockout score. The score was good last year, but I have to say that it’s better this year. We’ve got some great new stuff out of Andy and we have some great new additions of music from the period.
The second thing, and more importantly is the potential to be a Broadway show. The potential for today’s Broadway stage is there when a show really tells a story and has a story to tell. Recorded In Hollywood tells a story. It’s a true story, John Dolphin lived, he did these things and everyone from Billie Holiday to Elvis Presley had to make way to Dolphins of Hollywood, his shop, to pay homage to Dolphin. He helped them sell records and become even more famous in the West Coast. Stories are true, there real, this was serious, fun, exciting, and John Dolphin was a character—he was a larger-than-life guy who really wanted to make it.
What we add to this story is the truth of the relationship between South Central and the LAPD something that continues to happen everywhere in this country. It really happened in LA too, we’re not fabricating, in fact we’re very restrained in what we do with that aspect of the show. Were telling the honest truth, these folks who ran businesses in South Central dealt with police oppression, harassment, discrimination.
And the brilliant marketing guy that he was John Dolphin brought the white kids from all over town to his store. They wanted to have a great time, they wanted to dance with the black kids, they wanted to hear the black music and they wanted to be part of what was happening. And the cops were going nuts about this; they were not having it, and Dolphin faced a lot of difficulty because of that. So you add these three elements: the entertainment factor, the great music, the fact that this is a true story and we can tell it well and the fact that deals with something that’s important and you have what we think is a great show. It’s very rare to find a musical that gives you all of that.
What was the journey of this show from inception to creation?
JAMELLE: It started back in 2009 when I started to do the research, and the interviews with family and friends of my grandfather. Initially I turned that into a book in 2011, Recorded in Hollywood: The John Dolphin Story. From there I began the creative process of turning it into a musical. That’s when I got with the co-writer, Matt Donnelly and that’s when we also got with composer Andy Cooper. And we put the show together in a way that made it true to the actual story. Since its first run last year we’ve made significant changes, with the help of the Lou, and now the show is much better, much more educational, and more true to the time.
What did you find most striking in the research for this show?
JAMELLE: One of the most surprising things I learned is that John Dalton stood up to the LAPD. He formed a march and a protest against LAPD’s harassment of black businesses there on central. He organized this protest against them back in 1954, and this was before Brown vs. the Board of Education. He was standing up for civil rights long before the civil rights movement even started. And that’s what I found the most striking because it’s something that’s unheard of and never spoken about. It was such an important thing that he did, and it was very brave of him to do that at that time in history.
What did you learn from the 2015 production last year? How will this 2016 version be different?
LOU: In last year’s production we had a really entertaining evening, the show really rocked in terms of the music, the energy, the cast was terrific. When you’re in a 99-seat venue and you have twenty-two actors singing on stage, a band and the kind of music that we have in this show you’re half way there because the music is infectious. It was a joyful evening. I think last year we told the story, but we stayed at a level that was step one.
This year we really went back and worked on the book. There was more to say about John. Now we reveal John’s connection to civil rights and to the music industry, and we filled in and provided more context. There’s more context about the other businesses in L.A., other labels, what the environment was like for the music scene in L.A. This year we brought in Sam Cook and Jesse Belven who were key figures in the Dolphin world—we go deeper into the relationships of John and his posse.
The story is also a domestic story too, we show the relationship between John Dolphin and his wife, he was a difficult man in the domestic front and we let that be known. John dolphin changed over time and in this version we give the audience a better understanding of what he faced, and what he became and why he stood up—there’s a bit more drama, there’s a bit more heft. Also we have a couple of great new songs that show the arc of this man and how he overcame the adversity. And we have some great new songs from the period. It’s going to be two-and–a-half hours of a great story and solid entertainment.
What is your favorite moment in the show?
JAMELLE: One of my favorite moments is the beginning of the second act, the song called “Lovin’ John” about John Dolphin, a song that was written back in 1954. It’s a song about my grandfather, it’s a song about the store—no one’s ever heard this song until they come to the show, it’s not an original song for the show, it’s from the era and I just love this song.
LOU: For me it’s the new song Andy Cooper wrote called “I Won’t Walk Away”. It’s a classic 11 o’clock number, we didn’t have that moment in the show last time, but now we have that moment. It’s the moment when John is at his low point, things have fallen apart on every level for him both on a business perspective and a family perspective and he finally pivots and thinks about what’s important and makes that decision. The song represents the moment when he shifts from being one kind of person to another and Stu James, who is just magnificent in this role, delivers this song so beautifully.
Recorded in Hollywood runs from Saturday, July 16 to Sunday, August 7th at The Kirk Douglas Theatre (820 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232).
Performances are on Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.; on Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and on Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
FREE parking is located across the street, underneath Culver City City Hall: enter on Duquesne, just south of Culver Blvd.
For reservations and information, call (213) 972-4488 or go to www.RecordedInHollywood.com.