Friday, April 24, 2015

“Recorded in Hollywood” Spotlights L.A. Music History by M.R. Hunter

In 1948, John Dolphin, a black businessman from Detroit, relocated to Los Angeles and made music history when he opened a record store on Vernon near Central Avenue called "Dolphin's of Hollywood." Unable to procure a space in Hollywood due to racism, Dolphin, also known by the nickname "Lovin' John," decided to bring Hollywood to South Los Angeles. What he accomplished before his murder in 1958 was more than just selling records, he became a major influence in the transitional period of rock n' roll and R & B, creating his own labels and introducing a hungry generation to artists like Sam Cooke, Billie Holiday, Little Richard, James Brown, B.B. King and Tina Turner among many others.

John's grandson, Jamelle Dolphin inherits quite a legacy, but one buried in the passing of time. Although the record store was the place to be in its heyday, with Dolphin's wife Ruth taking over the store and record labels until the 80s, the lack of recognition for his grandfather's contributions both to the city and to music history inspired a biography and now a musical both titled after John Dolphin's first label, "Recorded in Hollywood." Playing at the Lillian Theatre (aptly) in Hollywood, Lovin' John's story is finally receiving the attention he deserves, in a part of town that refused to admit him due to race. Times have changed as well as music, but what remains true today is the impact one man had on music lovers, artists, and Los Angeles itself.

The musical superbly hits all the right notes with its 18 cast members as well as navigating the complex and fascinating journey of John Dolphin himself. Familiar tunes such as Jesse Belvin and The Penguins "Earth Angel" and Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" juxtapose original songs satisfying the narrative, but also the era of the times with soul, rock, and crooning ballads to epitomize the confluence of the 50s, including a sprightly nod to the Beach Boys aka the Longboards in the show with "California."

In the midst of enthusiastic choreography well staged by Cassie Crump under the direction of Denise Dowse, the book by Matt Donnelly and Jamelle Dolphin provides an intimate glimpse of the self-made man, John Dolphin, unflinching and honest in Stu James' portrayal. Confident, smart, innovative and foreseeing a trend of "buy one get one free" business acumen, Dolphin was also arrogant, stubborn, brash and short-sighted when it came to his own employees, particularly Percy Ivy whose misguided ambition runs headlong into Dolphin's stalwart integrity with grave consequences. The arc of John Dolphin's character does offer a mix of redemption, just before his shocking murder, providing a rewarding catalyst for those unfamiliar with his bio.

To the uninitiated, "Recorded in Hollywood" is a celebration in song and dance, all too fitting for a man who kept his record store open 24 hours a day with DJ's spinning tunes such as the famous Huggy Boy played keenly well by Nic Olsen. The opposition Dolphin's faced by local L.A.P.D., threatening to shut him down is delicately balanced with Philip Dean Lightstone as Chief Bill Parker and the shakedown by the Fire Marshall (James Simenc). The nuance is at times tenuous between the sheer frivolity of the up tempos and the ominous foreshadowing running underneath with palpable tension. It is then, the personal life of John Dolphin as a husband and father which gives the musical heart and lift as Ruth struggles in her own devotion as a wife and mother, tenderly executed by Jade Johnson.

To this day, John Dolphin does not have a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. His meteoric rise was soon eclipsed by the advent of Motown with household-friendly names such as Berry Gordy becoming synonymous with a movement Dolphin pioneered. This musical brings Dolphin's back into the public's eye in a manner Lovin' John would be proud of and probably rise up much like the audience in a standing ovation, for himself but also for the truth which strikes the right chords throughout. For those intrigued by local city lore or music history, this is the show to see.

"Recorded in Hollywood"
Runs through May 17 (will probably extend due to sold out audiences)
Fridays & Saturdays @ 8 p.m.
Sundays @ 3 p.m.
Lillian Theatre
1076 Lillian Way
Hollywood, CA 90038
(1½ blocks west of Vine at Santa Monica Blvd.)
Tickets: $30
(323) 960-4443 

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to this next Saturday. Yea!