DOLPHIN’S STORY RETURNS TO THE STAGE
REVIEW: RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
The name John Dolphin is far from a household name and what he did is just as obscure, yet when this mere blip of history is brought to the stage as in Recorded in Hollywood, the dots of past and present ultimately connect—if only for the show’s duration. The musical, with a book by Dolphin’s grandson Jamelle Dolphin, and Matt Donnelly and with music by Andy Cooper, takes audiences back to Dolphin’s record shop on South Central in the 1950s to a time when R&B and rock ‘n’ roll dominated the airwaves and racial discrimination flooded the streets. The 1950’s pastiche music and the period costumes do most of the work to transport audiences to what feels more like trip down memory lane than a fleshed-out piece of musical theater.
There’s no question that this latest version of Recorded in Hollywood surpasses last year’s premiere at the 99-seat Lillian Theatre on all fronts. What you get in this production is an exciting sensory experience that is a fine balance between intimate and large-scale theatre. Director Denise Dowse, scenic designer Bruce Goodrich, and lighting designer Lap Chi Chu have worked closely together to create a united vision that is fully intertwined. Goodrich’s set put us in the record shop browsing through records, watching parties, performances, and auditions that occurred there 24 hours a day and 7 nights a week. Chu’s subtle lighting takes us to the evening street scenes and through dramatic moments with ease and flow. Add to this Dowse’s focused and streamlined direction and you have a show that’s balanced and engaging.
Stu James as John Dolphin is incredible—he’s slick, driven, tender and tough as nails. James has done his homework, that’s apparent; he’s dug deep to portray the great Dolphin in a way that’s honest and enthralling. Not once does James let up on anything that comes his way in this powerhouse performance that builds to “I Won’t Walk Away”—an 11 ‘o clock number that is high voltage electricity to the max. Jenna Gillespie (Ruth Dolphin) is not over shadowed by John’s character—she holds her ground from start to finish and offers touching vocal moments in “All I Want In A Man” and “Lovin’ John (Reprise)”. Eric B. Anthony (Percy Ivy) and Thomas Hobson (Sam Cooke) are an energizing duo, easily the finest voices in the show—“Man of the Hour” is a matchless display of what they bring to the show. Vocally there is not a weak link to be found in Recorded In Hollywood, the cast makes singing these challenging R&B and rock ‘n’ roll songs seem effortless—with multi-part harmonies and reaching registers, these songs are far from easy.
As is, Recorded In Hollywood is a solid night of entertainment; yet as a musical, to quote last year’s L.A. Times review, it still “needs tweaking.” With so much music (diegetic that is) combined with the narrow linear timeline of one character, Recorded gives the impression of a remembrance concert more than anything else. Modern audiences demand more from contemporary musicals—more drama, less narrative. In this case we want to know more about the people living in the South Central communities during the 50’s, and how Dolphin interceded to bring forth changes that endured beyond his story.
WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR?
Abdul Hamid Royal‘s music direction is superb in Recorded. He exudes energy and drive as he leads the production from the keyboard with high-powered grooves—he’s performing but also completely in control of the whole production. Royal has also expertly prepared this cast to be musically precise, dramatically conscious and enthusiastic in every song, and his band is the finest group of pit musicians you’ll ever hear.
Recorded in Hollywood is making tremendous strides in its developmental process and with experts like producer Lou Spisto on its side, there’s no doubt that the piece will find its groove as a contemporary musical theater work. Until then, Recorded still offers a spectacular evening of song and dance that stands as a reverent tribute to the legendary record label owner and music producer John Dolphin.
Recorded in Hollywood plays at the The Kirk Douglas Theatre from July 8 to August 7, 2016. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 213-972-4488 or visit www.RecordedInHollywood.com.