James Monroe Igelhart (Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago)
In a captivating interview with rolling out, Tony award-winning actor, James Monroe Iglehart delves into his transformative portrayal of Jazz icon Louis Armstrong in the mesmerizing play, A Wonderful World.
Iglehart’s portrayal is a masterclass in artistic immersion, blending methodical precision with heartfelt passion. He shares the intricacies of his preparation, from delving into Armstrong’s musical genius to embodying the essence of the legendary figure. This insightful conversation offers a rare glimpse into the dedication and artistry behind Iglehart’s remarkable performance, promising audiences an unforgettable experience in this enchanting production.What kind of preparation did you do to embody this role of Louis Armstrong?
I think I did more research on this than I’ve done in any other role I’ve ever played. I read both of his autobiographies. I listened to tapes. I listened to as many interviews as I could possibly get my hands on. I did everything I possibly could to get as much information about this man as I could to get ready for this, for this moment.What aspects of his life did you find the most fascinating?
What I found the most fascinating was the fact that he was really one of the best musicians ever to pick up the horn. A lot of trumpet players weren’t playing above the line on the treble clef until Louie started doing it. Louie’s chops were just that sharp.
The other thing was how involved he was in the civil rights movement. Most people think that he wasn’t involved at all just because he didn’t march … the difference was Louis put his money where his mouth was. He wasn’t out there on the front lines, but he was the one helping pay for the front lines to be the front lines.
How do you go about keeping these songs true to Louis Armstrong, but also being able to inject who you are?
Very carefully. It’s interesting to play a man who actually damaged his voice and use that as a way of still being able to produce some of the best music in the world. He took a problematic situation and turned it into a positive. So how do I do that without damaging my own voice? With the help of a wonderful vocal instructor and my Just Champion ENT in New York. They make sure that I stay healthy. I do my best to give reverence to the way he sang his songs and the way he spoke.
I don’t shy away from how he sang things. I don’t shy away from how he riffed or how he scatted things. You have to go, you know, full throttle into it. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with his voice.
How do you see A Wonderful World contributing to the broader landscape of stage productions and storytelling?
There are so many stories to tell and there will always be stories to tell and there will always be great heroes to tell stories about. Now we’re adding Louis Armstrong to that pantheon of heroes that musicals have talked about. This man changed American music. This man changed the perception of African American people in our country. This man was able to change how musicians used a certain instrument beginning at a time when clarinet was the lead instrument in jazz. This man came along and turned the trumpets into the leading instrument of what we now call the American music jazz.
A Wonderful World is running now until Oct. 29, 2023 at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago. Buy tickets here.
Source: Rolling Out