One person shows are problematic at best.
The primary hurdle being how to establish the required conflict needed to engage an audience without the usual adversarial antagonist present. Hamlet needs Claudius. George needs Martha. Oscar needs Felix. Tweety Bird needs Sylvester.
And the list goes on.
What this results in are numerous shows wherein the protagonist is fighting a social system such as Fredrick Douglas and Margaret Sanger to name two examples that have recently been seen in L.A. theatres.
But the favorite fodder of solo staging are those individuals who were in conflict with themselves. By far the most put upon figure in this regard must be Edgar Allen Poe who brings an enterouge of personal demons large enough to double cast a Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.
But in rankings of personal demons, Charlie Parker must run a very close second.
Parker (August 29, 1920 – March 12, 1955), called “Bird” was one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century.
“Bird Lives!” offers a workman like narrative of Parker’s sad and brutally short life, touching all the bases of racial prejudice, romantic disappointment and drug addiction that eventually lead to his death at 34.
Neither director Tommy Hicks nor Montae Russell as Parker brings anything exceptional to the stage, but neither do they give cause for disappointment. Russell imbues his performance with a strong undercurrent of sincerity which serves him and the production well.
Willard Manus’ script, which makes no extreme demands of either actor or director, is at its best not when retelling Parker’s life, but when focusing on the unique interpretation of harmonic interplay that would form Parker’s distinctive musical voice. Those already acquainted with Charlie Parker would, I feel, find this show a tad too trifling. On the other hand for those with a budding interest in the history of Jazz, “Bird Lives!” offers an entertaining crash course in one of its true giants.
As someone once said, “To know the heartbeat of America, listen to Jazz.”
To know Jazz, listen to Bird.
Chromolume Theatre at the Attic
5429 W. Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90016
Performances: Aug 15 – Sep 21
Fri, Sat 8pm