Sometimes the grind of history can forget to give credit to the individuals who deserve it most. John Dolphin, who was integral to the American music scene – artistically, culturally, and racially – was one of those people until now.
His grandson, Jamelle Dolphin, rightly felt it necessary to tell the story of his grandfather, who would not let anyone get in the way of his vision of turning a record shop on South L.A.’s Central Avenue into an entity bigger than the real estate it occupied, a hub where stars were made and the music brought folks of all walks of life together. It was a diverse environment way ahead of its time, thanks to a man who not only overcame prejudice, but did it on his terms, however flawed at times, but never for lack of courage.
In collaboration with Matt Donnelly (in writing the book), as well as by bringing Andy Cooper (music and lyrics), Broadway producer Lou Spisto, and esteemed director Denise Dowse on board, “Recorded in Hollywood,” a musical based on the life and times of John Dolphin, has been revamped since last fall, and will be compelling attendees to rock and jive inside the Kirk Douglas Theatre until August 7th.
Stu James, a phenomenal actor and singer, plays John Dolphin with an astoundingly genuine flair – striking witty, emotional, and spiritual chords wherever appropriate. The observer comes away thinking James is always in charge of whatever he does, even if it means bearing the consequences of his character’s actions – some justified and others not.
This could be observed in instances when James, as Dolphin, charismatically sloughs off the intimidation tactics by two police officers (well-acted with unlikable machismo by Ryan Murray and Tyler Ruebensaal), who assert their authority via the pretense of keeping the peace. Dolphin’s sociability is further highlighted upon initially meeting his wife to be, Ruth Dolphin, played by the talented Jenna Gillespie. The possibility of being rejected by her is not in Dolphin’s vocabulary; rather, he is infused by an unflagging confidence that culminates in hiring Ruth, followed by the sweet musical number, “Baby You Got the Job.”
Where James really shines, though, is when he pays the penance for the adulterous temptation ironically brought on by his own character’s success, when he asks Gillespie’s Ruth to “Please Come Home,” preceded by the epically powerful “I Won’t Walk Away.” In channeling the music mogul, James has so much self-respect that we never feel pity or even disdain for Dolphin’s mistake. Instead, we find ourselves rooting for a man who is adamant about making things right – at home and in the face of public scrutiny.
Gillespie plays her part as Ruth Dolphin perfectly. She is attractively effervescent when she needs to be, as in “All I Want in a Man;” is justly and dignifiedly willful against her husband’s pleas of reconciliation in “Please Come Home;” and is enchantingly solemn in the penultimate song of the show, “Lovin’ John (Reprise).”
The song commemorates Dolphin, who, on February 1st 1958, tragically met his untimely death at the hands of longtime friend and employee, Percy Ivy, who is magnificently portrayed by the versatile Eric B. Anthony. And, in understanding the sadness of what transpires, we are immediately drawn to the trajectory of Percy Ivy – a personable whirling-dervish of energy and ebullience, but one who perceived a betrayal harsh enough to end his employer’s life.
Observers paying attention to Anthony will note the incredible discipline, detail, and foreboding facial expressions dedicated to his character, from when he botches his audition piece, “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” to when he entertainingly steals the stage in “Sixty-Minute Man,” to when he, with impeccable comedic timing, flubs his words in “Man of the Hour.” Anthony thoroughly realizes the complexity of Percy as one who was winningly vivacious (perhaps deceivingly so), but burdened by the inability to look inwardly and understand his limitations, allowing himself to fill with envy for those who made it as vocalists, such as Sam Cooke (Thomas Hobson).
Historically, Cooke, Huggy Boy (Matt Magnusson) and Jesse Belvin (assuredly portrayed by Wilkie Ferguson III) were part of a famous supporting cast that doubled as Dolphin’s family in both real life and in this production. The latter two literally got their start at Dolphin’s of Hollywood; Jesse was an employee who made the most of his shot, and Huggy Boy was a white DJ who could musically regale his audience with the best of them – especially done with infectious high energy by Magnusson in “I’ll Put You on the Radio.”
Cooke, who was already a self-made man prior to his friendship with Dolphin, is played by a doppelgänger in Hobson, who is blessed with as dulcet a voice, if not better, than the icon whom he portrays. The audience swiftly takes note of Cooke’s superstar quality – expertly conveyed by Hobson – when he sings his first number, “Jesus Gave Me Water,” and experiences a combination of awe and uproariousness when Cooke sings to his female admirers in “Man of the Hour.” The female ensemble is particularly memorable with not only Cooke, but in other pieces, such as “Can You Help Me Out,” where they are often the funniest part of the scenes they charmingly occupy.
“Recorded in Hollywood,” a production based on John Dolphin and his revolutionary record store, Dolphin’s of Hollywood, which wasn’t actually situated in its eponymous city, but stood as proof of the steeliness of a man who was not going to be enclosed by any boundaries, is the best show of the summer.
It is terrifically directed by Denise Dowse, cleverly choreographed by Cassie Crump, and features 15 original songs by Andy Cooper, which are skillfully played by music director Abdul Hamid Royal and his band.
For more information, visit www.recordedinhollywood.com