By E.M. Fredric
Los Angeles, California – (The Hollywood Times) April 14, 2019 – Birdland Blue – a new play about Miles Davis written by Randy Ross PhD and directed by Ben Guillory – opened at The Los Angeles Theatre Center on April 6th. It’s intended to be a behind-the-scenes musical evening with Miles Davis and his sextet in August 1959 – the same year his Kind of Blue album was recorded. Critics have lauded it as one of the greatest, best-selling and innovative jazz records of all time and a Miles Davis masterpiece.
The set, light and production design lend the nightclub ambience as well as use of the space in The Robey Theatre as the actors are above, around and before you to tell a fictional tale of a night at the Birdland nightclub in NYC. At Broadway and 52nd Street in New York City, the nightclub Birdland was the legendary center of the jazz world, where the glitterati of Broadway, Hollywood and the sports world regularly filled its 500 seats.
Birdland Blue was work shopped before being chosen as the first main stage presentation of the Robey’s 25th anniversary year. I love Miles Davis and wanted to love this production, yet the actors are stuck with miming playing instruments with background music, clumsy black-outs and a story-line that needs more grit, structure and passion.
Rolling Stone described Miles Davis as “the most revered jazz trumpeter of all time, not to mention one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.” That description is not the artist we meet in this play.
Well known are Davis’ bad temper and addictions with drugs and alcohol but the actors go in and out of states of portraying being high so quickly it’s not believable or are we made to care anymore about what happens if a crooked cop (who wears his badge in the wrong place) or a nightclub owner is making bets and losing money on the side or if the sextet sticks together or not. We aren’t given the beautiful music of the man or the record – we’re teased, badly and left confused as to who Miles Davis was other than what is presented here. It’s like having one song play over and over yet never hearing it played completely once.
The Miles Davis of Birdland Blue loves to flirt with the one actress cast as a reporter yet seems to have had no real connections to any women relationship-wise. He can’t remember women he has been with or their conversation when they first met. Davis’ high school girlfriend is portrayed not as the woman who moved in with him in NYC and gave him two children but as a girl in high school who probably had many men, according to what he was told, leaving him as the father as unlikely. Left out is an affair that changed him (one of many) with French actress/singer, Juliette Gréco long before this night takes place. Left out is a lot in a piece declared based on speculation yet in real places with real people (or at least the musicians?).
Miles Davis was arrested for defending himself against a cop who told him to move along outside the Birdland nightclub when Davis was escorting a white woman to a cab. Reportedly two detectives held the crowd back while a third beat Davis from behind which required 5 stitches to his head. Davis was arrested and later acquitted of disorderly conduct and third-degree assault. Why Davis’s raspy voice came to be isn’t touched on either but we’re given scenes where the attractive female reporter flirts and interviews Miles and sings with the other musicians and no real content comes out of it in regard to storyline.
Birdland Blue isn’t a musical, a cohesive story or a good jam session – it’s a play in need of rewrites if it’s to in any way gift the audience with the presence of the great Miles Davis.
We miss Miles the musical genius and we miss his music majestry as much as we miss the glamour of the era. We miss… the point.
The cast includes (in alphabetical order) Jermaine Alexander, Tiffany Coty, Rogelio Douglas III, Eddie Goines, Charles Isen, Marcus Clark Oliver, Darrell Philip, Michael Ricks and Damon Rutledge.
Music performed live by Ricardo Mowatt, Marion Newton and Randy Ross.
Los Angeles Theatre Center, in the intimate Theatre 4, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013. Showtimes are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m., except Sundays, April 21 and May 12, when showtime will be at 7:00 p.m.
ADMISSION: $35. Seniors, students, veterans, LAUSD teachers, $22.50. Groups of ten or more, $20. Previews $17.50 RESERVATIONS: (866) 811-4111.
ONLINE TICKETNG Through May 12th: www.thelatc.org