The Arthur Luby-penned illustration of jazz’s legendary, tenor saxophonist, Paul Gonsalves is a novelistic approach at conveying Duke Ellington’s troubled, selfish – sultry – musical wingman. One of DC’s premier musicians, Davey Yarborough takes the A-train as leading man in Paul Gonsalves on the Road , offering his beyond-exceptional playing skills (which really are, nothing short of impeccable).
There are times when the performer appears uncomfortable during the Andy Wassenich-directed piece, unless, of course, he diverges into the two, or three monologues recounting the days of his own – Paul’s – musical triumphs; then, Yarborough is a truthful, and healthy representation of Gonsalves’ melancholy presence.
Gonsalves is on a drunken tangent during a presentation of musical insight to a packed auditorium of college students, sabotaging an Ellington-led teaching session, he is fired from the orchestra – just like that, the show begins with a fatal flaw – Gonsalves’ greedy tendencies remove the innocence he may have once had. He has lost the trust of his son, Renell (Tony Thomas II), removed from the closeness between daughter, Colette (Emma Tower), and taken advantage of by hometown ‘friends’ – it was the musical beat of his own talent that kept him alive.
The Trinidad Theatre proves to be a theatrical service in the cleanly directed, visual biography – a thrust stage cemented on the deepest level of a black box theatre is up-close, and personal. The cabaret-style lighting design, fashioned by Chris Holland, forges an appealing, head-scratching, false depth. Sitting in the second to last row, I marveled at the audible fingering of Yarborough in “Happy Reunion” – the husky-voiced sax player contributes a piece of himself when creating; his music is as close to you, as it is with the composition.
Gonsalves’ tenor sax solo – immortalized in “Ellington at Newport 1956” – floats within the rhythmic drive of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue”; it is likely referenced, nearly a dozen times in Paul Gonsalves on the Road. Sure, it’s the climactic, primal moment of Gonsalves’ career, but is utilized as a permanent, preservation marking in the play. Here, Mr. Luby is making note of a cultural triumph, the improvisation won’t be forgotten, and it shouldn’t.
Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.
Paul Gonsalves on the Road is playing through July 24, 2016 at the Logan Fringe Arts Space: Trinidad Theatre – 1433 H Street, NE – in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.
Check other reviews and show previews on DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2016 Capital Fringe Page.
Read the preview of ‘‘Paul Gonsalves on the Road.’
RATING: Best of the 2016 Capital Fringe.