Recorded in Hollywood Review - The Heart and Soul of South Los Angeles

Before Motown, there was John Dolphin and his Los Angeles record shop, Dolphin’s in Hollywood. The saga of this music giant was almost forgotten until Jamelle Dolphin, his grandson penned a book about John Dolphin’s life and times. When that book was adapted for the stage by Jamelle and Matt Cooper and set to music by Andy Cooper, RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD emerged as an energetic, full-of-life theater production chronicling John’s up’s and down’s as he paved the way for black entertainers to be heard and appreciated way back in the 40’s.

John and Ruth Dolphin - Photo courtesy of Jamelle Dolphin

Lovin’ John, a nickname John Dolphin richly earned over the course of his 58 years, decided to enter the retail record business and planned to open a record shop in Hollywood, but – alas – the color of his skin made it impossible to beg, borrow, or steal real estate in 1948 white Hollywood. Always a flexible man, John opened his first record shop in the only part of Los Angeles that was open to him. Even if it was a few miles south of Hollywood, the doors of Dolphin’s of Hollywood opened; and a legend in the music business was born.  

Jenna Gillespie and Stu James - Photo by Ed Krieger

John Dolphin (Stu James) seemed to have an intuitive sense about what the music audience of his day wanted. He was also a brilliant entrepreneur who invented the idea of “twofers” and keeping his business open “24/7.” Soon, he had disc jockey Huggy Boy (Matt Magnusson) in his front window playing popular music non-stop, eventually for a radio station. In fact, “Earth Angel” premiered in his front window. Favorites like John’s close friend Sam Cooke (Thomas Hobson) had his first non-gospel record “break” here, and John fostered talent – well-known and aspiring – at his little record shop on Central Avenue. He may well have invented the concept of “crossover.”

Sha'Leah Nikole Stubblefield, Ashley Lynette Brown, Katherine Washington, and Joel Rene - Photo by Ed Krieger

Between 1948 and 1958, Dolphin was producing records on five labels (Recorded in Hollywood, Money Records, Cash Records, Lucky Records, and Ball Records). His shop was the place to go to see and hear the greats mingled with up-and-coming talents in the music industry. Stars like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Elvis Presley made a point of stopping by Dolphin’s of Hollywood.

Ryan Murray, Tyler Ruebensaal, Dylan Hoffinger, and Bren Thor Johnson - Photo by Ed Krieger

Unfortunately, John’s personal life did not fare as well as his professional. With a penchant for drinking, big spending, and readily available women, he alienated his wife Ruth (Jenna Gillespie), a driving force in his career. Eventually, his vices also had a negative impact on the financial health of his businesses. Yet Dolphin’s of Hollywood persisted on remaining a thriving music center for Los Angeles. In fact, Dolphin’s of Hollywood remained open until 1989, long after his violent death.

Stu James and Ensemble - Photo by Ed Krieger

This energetic and exciting production has a cast of 21, a full six-piece band, and some 50’s tunes like “Nature Boy” and “Earth Angel” mixed with lots of songs developed for the show. The cast – from the stars to the ensemble members – was excellent. Everyone managed to convey the heart and soul of the music of the era while keeping the audience rocking and rolling. Director Denise Dowse strikes just the right notes (musical and otherwise) and keeps the action very active indeed.

Stu James and Ryan Murray - Photo by Ed Krieger

Bruce Goodrich’s scenic design keeps the focus on the music – and, after all, that’s the point, isn’t it? Mylette Nora’s costumes and Aishah Williams’ hair and wigs memorialize the era to perfection. Lap Chi Chu’s lighting and the sounds of Diablo Sound add to the energy and fun, as does Cassie Crump’s choreography. And last but certainly not least is Abdul Hamid Royal’s music direction and the sensational efforts of his band members. To the last note of the production, RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD is a tour de force and a must-see musical.

Alfred Jackson, Frank Lawson, Joel Rene, Matthew Sims, Jr., and Franklin Grace - Photo by Ed Krieger

 

RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD runs through August 7, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD is a guest production of the Kirk Douglas Theatre, located at 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tickets range from $39 to $59. For further information or reservations, call 213-972-4488 or go online at the Recorded in Hollywood site.

Katherine Washington and Stu James - Photo by Ed Krieger

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