Quote of the Day: To relive your past without pain is a lie. Chimney Man in Jelly’s Last Jam, Book by George C. Wolfe, Music by Jelly Roll Morton, Lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, Additional Music and Musical Adaptation by Luther Henderson, Directed and choreographed by Kelli Foster Warder, Music Supervision by Sanford Moore. On stage at Theater Latte’ Da through May 8, 2022. Get your tickets, now. This one will sell out! I’m still in awe of this production. Truly heart-thumping, toe-tapping, mind-blowing, emotion-evoking fantastic! (I want to go again.)

Andre Shoals as Chimney Man in Jelly’s Last Jam at Theater Latte’ Da. Photo: Dan Norman

The show opens with Chimney Man (Andre Shoals) standing on the balcony of a building on a street in New Orleans singing a soulful ballad that transitions into a heart ponding tap dance number called Jelly’s Jam. Jelly Roll Morton (Reese Britts) has passed away and is in limbo where Chimney Man walks him back through pivotal moments in his life, forcing him to confront his past, the pain of abandonment from his family, and how he treated people in his life, while playing all that amazing jazz and soulful music that he created. Jelly Roll, born Ferdinand LaMothe to a Creole family in New Orleans in 1890, changed his name to Jelly Roll Morton when he discovered jazz and his gift as a composer, and after the rejection of his great-grandmother who disowned him for it. His father abandoned the family, and his mother died when he was only 14-years-old. From a painful past comes brilliant art. Jelly Roll Morton is the self-proclaimed inventor of jazz. 

Alexcia Thompson as Anita, Reese Britts as Jelly Roll Morton in Jelly’s Last Jam at Theater Latte’ Da. Photo: Dan Norman

When Jelly meets Anita (Alexcia Thompson) his life starts to take shape and become more stable, but he is broken and angry and rejects his Black roots, turning on his friend Jack (Dwight Xaveir Leslie) and pushing him and Anita away. Jelly is a troubled and gifted soul. 

Jordan Leggett as Young Jelly, and cast in Jelly’s Last Jam at Theater Latte’ Da. Photo: Dan Norman

The rest of the ensemble cast portray various people in Jelly’s life and the community he lived in. They are all extremely talented performers. The vocals are gorgeous. The acting is exceptional. The dancing is mind-blowingly good. The tap dance numbers are mesmerizing. Time Brickey is the featured tap dancer and choreographer for additional tap. During a scene where Jelly is grappling with his isolation, trying to compose, needing to connect, Brickey taps out the beats, the emotions and the search for creative connection. It takes until the last moments of his life for Jelly to accept who he is, where he came from, his painful past, relationships he destroyed and people he loved. 

Cast of Jelly’s Last Jam at Theater Latte’ Da. Photo: Dan Norman

Jelly’s Last Jam is a show you need to experience live, to feel the rhythm of the music and tap dancing, to hear the soulful melodies from the instruments and the exceptional singers, to witness the brilliance of Reese Britts bringing to life this complex character. Tommy Barbarella conducts a five piece ensemble. Eli Sherlock designed the stunning set. Costumes by Jarrod Barnes are gorgeous. Lighting by Craig Gottschalk, and sound design by C. Andrew Mayer. All contributed to this tremendous theatrical experience.

The show was almost sold out on Saturday, so don’t wait to get tickets. This one is a must-see. Go to the website for Theater Latte’ Da for tickets and showtimes. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you embrace, or even know, your cultural and family roots? How far back can you go in naming your ancestors? What are some family traditions, foods, or art do you pass on through generations?