Thursday, April 25, 2024

Now playing: Louis Armstrong bio, A Wonderful World

James Monroe Iglehart performed magic when he played the Genie and won the Tony Award for Aladdin. He’s making magic once again as he becomes Satchmo in the musical A Wonderful World: A New Musical About the Life and Loves of Louis Armstrong.

While Iglehart lip-syncs the musical instruments, he transforms himself in looks, style and especially voice to become the raspy voice entertainer. Is this a role he was meant to play or is he so good he makes this role his own?

Whatever the answer, Iglehart gives a memorable and remarkable performance as the famed jazz musician. Iglehart takes his role to the next level when Armstrong struggles with his voice and the raspy edge to his voice becomes prevalent, the audience gasps as Iglehart makes it sound like the real Satchmo is making an appearance in this Broadway-bound musical.

The story of Armstrong isn’t one of the most familiar to audiences so it was nice to see how his life unfolds before our very eyes. He never, or rarely, gave in to becoming a token black in any situation when others, especially during the Great Depression, had to forgo their own talents to become merchants and farmers. Armstrong always tried to stay in the foreground of entertainment even when film studios might want to put him in the background. At times, race injustice hit too close to home and he took action, but for the most part book writer Aurin Squire paints a story where Armstrong was held in higher esteem in the white community, unlike many of his counterparts.

The show also focuses on the many wives of Louis Armstrong. There were four and they all had a role in shaping him as a husband and a businessman. The show uniquely creates them as muses to Armstrong, often spiritually singing together and all have their own time to shine: Khalifa White, Jennie Harney-Fleming, Brennyn Lark and Ta’Rea Campbell work well together and on their own as his wives. It seems Armstrong could never be without a woman by his side as he often started the next relationship before moving on from the last.

Since his story is seldom told, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Squire with director Christopher Renshaw might benefit from a few edits in the first act and cut out maybe 15-20 minutes. The second act is tighter and does a better job of passing time and learning little facts about Armstrong, all the while hearing the amazing Iglehart re-create to perfection many of his most memorable musical performances.

The final number of the title song is the show at its best with Iglehart singing and feeling every lyric to one of the most beautiful songs ever written. That’s the magic we now expect from Iglehart.

The show sort of followed Armstrong’s journey with a run in New Orleans. It is now running Oct. 12-29 in Chicago, where Armstrong also had success and is touted to head to Broadway in the near future.

With all of the other successful musical bios that have been on Broadway, Wonderful World would be a welcome addition.

Get tickets for Chicago or follow its journey to Broadway at

Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for and contributes to as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."

Kevin M. Thomas has 156 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin M. Thomas

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