“Jelly’s Last Jam” is a musical which premiered in 1992 and was written and directed by George C. Wolfe. It is a tribute to the life and career of one of the pioneers of jazz music in the early 20th century — jazz pianist Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, known as Jelly Roll Morton. It will be showing at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre from May 4 to 28. The show is rated PG-13.
The musical features a talented cast, and this production will shine a light on the gripping and remarkable story of an artist while also honoring Jelly Roll Morton’s connection to his roots and jazz music, all brought to the CFRT stage.
Up & Coming Weekly was able to talk with Director and Choreographer Brian Harlan Brooks and the lead actor André Jordan. It was a fascinating conversation that shed light on the behind-the-scenes process of bringing this show to life.
Brooks started as a dancer and believed in telling stories and expressing feelings and emotions through dance, which made it a natural transition for him to start telling stories through directing.
He is also a trained actor and stated, “They are different skill sets, they have intersecting abilities, but they are different skill sets. So, being trained as an actor and performing as an actor and being trained as a dancer allowed me to meet the middle of directing and choreography.”
Lead actor André Jordan provided insight into playing a historical figure. “It has been a challenge, but it has been a very exciting challenge.” Jelly Roll Morton is the first African American figure he has the honor of portraying.
When addressing the process of preparing for a legendary musical and how much they draw from the original show, Brooks said he didn’t want to see how the musical was done before.
“As a director, sometimes you want to be really in your imagination.”
However, he did listen to the soundtrack.
“I feel inspired to read it and ... look at the documentary and look at the intentions of the writers and the composers and then come up with my own ideas for the staging and choreography. This show originally was a tap show and I’m not using tap at all. So in order to do that, I really want to allow my imagination to run wild with it as opposed to having images of what somebody else created in my head.”
When asked if they could, for one day, play a different role from “Jelly’s Last Jam,” what would it be, Jordan said he would want a chance to sing Miss Mamie’s part in “Michigan Water Number.”
Brook's choice was the Chimney Man role because it’s similar to his role as a director. Brooks also noted that he liked how well-written the role of Anita is because it does not stick to the stereotypical way strength is shown in a Black woman but as a clear, strong woman. Further, he could not pick just one, but Chimney Man is close to his current role as the director.
The discussion moved to the cultural significance of “Jelly’s Last Jam” and the topic of
how the musical discusses Blackness and how it can not be defined as just one thing.
“Part of the pain Jelly goes through is that he finds himself stuck between a Creole identity, a Black identity, and not being white. And Creole in Jelly Roll Morton’s life was about its proximity and closeness to being white and being above whiteness,” said Brooks.
What they hope people take away from this show is something to help in their own lives.
“My hope is that people will come to this show and leave with something that will make their lives and themselves better,” said Jordan.
“I believe when you go through someone’s individual life, it also becomes universal because all of us can identify with some parts of rejection, some parts of not really feeling like you belong in certain places, and trying to find where you belong, and I think we all can identify with that ... Hopefully makes the world a better a place one individual at a time,” said Brooks.
Their passion and excitement about this musical are inspiring and gives an appreciation for the art of musical theatre.
“Jelly’s Last Jam” is a musical experience you won’t want to miss. Performances run from May 4 to- 28, but grab your tickets soon because some performances are already sold out.
Tickets range from $19 to $37. Wednesday, May 10, is Military Appreciation Night (active duty, veterans and their families get 25% off the ticket price), and Friday, May 12, is Teacher Appreciation Night (teachers and their families get 25% off the ticket price).
For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.cfrt.org/.