A poignant and moving piece about the inner demons that plague the soul of the brilliant jazz artist, Paul Gonsalves, Art Luby’s Paul Gonsalves on the Road is a masterpiece in the making. While the production needs improvement in pacing, delivery and smoothness of transitions, the bones of this play offer a foundation for a moving blend of music and oratorical discourse that gives insight, compassion and sympathy towards the plight of the talented tenor saxophonist who wrestled with the disease of substance abuse.
A period piece, Director Andy Wassenich allows Davey Yarborough (Paul Gonsalves) to play excerpts from some of Ellington’s classics during scene changes. A mixture of flashbacks and real-time events create a timeline that paints a vivid picture of the gifted, yet flawed, Paul Gonsalves. The set and lighting design of Chris Holland provide a simple, yet impactful environment for Gonsalves’ story.
Nevertheless, while the story of Gonsalves is moving, it is the superior acting of Keith E. Irby (Mercer Ellington) that keeps the play alive. His in-depth characterization and moving delivery stole the show. Others that shined on stage include Lauren Davis (Colette) and Patrick M. Doneghy (Renell). Davis’ innocence and sincerity as Colette enhanced the conflict of Gonsalves being on the road while Doneghy’s anger and pain from the absence of his father in his life brought me to the brink of tears.
Though Yarborough’s beauty, skill and gift as a saxophonist is evident, a full connection to the character of Gonsalves did not emerge in the performance. However, I believe that with each performance of the show that the music and characterization will merge together into a powerful portrayal.
Along with actors Mike S. “Mike” Easterling (Duke Ellington) and William Powell (Geoferry), the cast, crew and production staff are on the brink of brilliance in due time.
For more information on the show, to hear Paul play, and to purchase tickets, go to our Fringe Preview.