BWW Review: RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD Brilliantly Recounts the Career of L.A. Music Visionary John Dolphin
Having been raised in Los Angeles and a diehard fan of the British Invasion music of the 1960s, it's surprising that until I read about the World Premiere musical RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD, I had never heard of John Dolphin or his famous record store in South Central where integrated listeners flocked to enjoy the thriving black music scene due to his efforts. Thanks to his grandson Jamelle Dolphin who, along with Matt Donnelly wrote the book, with music and lyrics by Andy Cooper, Hollywood is set to discover this little-known slice of L.A. history, directed with heart and soul by four-time NAACP Best Director recipient Denise Dowse with a rocking score arranged by Stephan Terry and raucous period perfect choreography by Cassie Crump.
In 1948, a decade before Motown, John Dolphin opened his soon-to-be world famous Dolphin's of Hollywood record store in South Los Angeles, just off legendary Central Avenue, but his contributions to music and the formative years of rock 'n' roll have often been overlooked. Based on the book "Recorded In Hollywood: The John Dolphin Story," this new musical features 16 original songs by Andy Cooper to match the musical era of the 1950s, as well as hit cover songs associated with the story including Sam Cooke's "You Send Me," The Penguins' "Earth Angel" and "Wheel Of Fortune" by The Hollywood Flames.
Casting director Michael Donovan is to be congratulated for assembling the most remarkably talented cast, each of whom are worthy of their star turns in this show. From the moment he enters singing "Ain't We Havin' A Time," Stu James embodies the role of "Lovin" John Dolphin, full of bravado, charm and a drive to go after what he wants even though everyone else has told him "no."
As his wife Ruth, Jade Johnson transforms from a young girl with an attitude who fears John's advances to a supportive wife and mother, turning the other cheek at his frequent dalliances after the store stays open 24/7. Her heartfelt and tear-soaked "Don't Stop Now" gives Johnson the opportunity to share her deepest emotional pain and hurt, so much so that I advise you to bring tissues.
For nearly ten years, Dolphin's of Hollywood was the most famous record shop in the country - perhaps the world - with legendary DJ Dick "Huggy Boy" Hugg spinning records all night from the front window. Nic Olsen is a treat to watch cavorting as Dick "Huggy Boy" Hugg, channeling the vigor of early rock and roll radio personalities.
Recording artists appeared at the store and performed live on-air interviews, greeting and signing autographs for customers. Many are well represented in the show, including Eric B. Anthony as songwriter Percy Ivy, a frustrated wannabe singer who works in the record store, alternating between admiration and frustration with his boss. Godfrey Moye takes on the role of Sam Cooke, mimicking his song styling and sexual allure to a tee in "You Send Me," melting the hearts of the ladies with his smile while dressed in authentic vintage 50s shirts by costume designer Mylette Nora whose designs lend real credence to the time period throughout the show.
Rahsaan Patterson portrays Los Angeles Sentinel founding publisher Leon Washington, a man who saw a great story and went with it, increasing the popularity of the record store throughout the city. Silver-voiced John Devereaux portrays Jesse Belvin, a young store employee who goes on to fame after the release of his single "Earth Angel" recorded in Dolphin's in-store studio, which Devereaux sings to perfection.
All of the ensemble actors play multiple roles while singing and dancing up a storm. Devereaux, along with Franklin Grace, Nic Hodges and Matthews Sims, Jr. sing "Wheel of Fortune" as The Hollywood Flames, a group similar to the Temptations in their pitch perfect harmonies, slicked back hair, formal attire, and dancing with their microphones choreography.
And let's not forget the ladies! Ruth discovers four young women who, at her urging, become "The Coopers" after Dolphin transforms them into a successful girl group (Brooke Brewer, Jenna Gillespie, Sha'Leah Nikole Stubblefield and Katherine Washington). Their smooth "Moonlight Lane" gives Dolphin the opportunity to take Ruth in his arms and dance his way into her heart. These four talented ladies also portray Ruth's sisters with attitude who discourage her from Dolphin's advances as she describes him as "All That I Want in a Man."
Given the store's location, Dolphin recognizes a local music sensation beginning and brings in a Beach Boys inspired group he christens The Longboards (Richie Ferris, Philip Dean Lightstone, Jake Novak and James Simenc). Their "California" number and surf-style choreography brings back the innocence of bygone days sitting and watching the waves for any of us lucky enough to be raised close to the Pacific Ocean in the City of the Angels.
Louvered set design by Joel Daavid allows for multiple, quick scene transitions on the small stage as well as three-dimensional videos and photo displays, enhanced by moody lighting designed by Christina Schwinn.
"John started from scratch and evolved into one of the most important figures in the history of American music," says Jamelle Dolphin, whose biography of his grandfather, inspired by years of colorful stories he heard growing up, was based on extensive research of historical records and hundreds of hours of verbal interviews with family and friends. "When he realized that no one was going to let him open his record store on all-white Hollywood Blvd., he brought Hollywood to Central Avenue. By naming the store 'Dolphin's of Hollywood,' he was telling the world that he was going to stare discrimination in the face and not blink."
Just as I have learned, I hope future audiences come away with a deeper understanding of how much we owe John Dolphin for creating a place where predominantly black music, sometimes called "race music," morphed into mainstream rock 'n' roll that appealed to everyone in Los Angeles as well as the world.RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD continues through May 17, 2015, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm at the Lillian Theatre, located at 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood, CA 90038 (1½ blocks west of Vine).. Tickets to all performances are $30. For reservations and information, call (323) 960-4443 or go to www.RecordedInHollywood.com Photos by Ed Krieger