By Shannon Thomas Kennedy, guest critic
A bitter-sweet, but finely executed tune is being played upon the stage of Detroit’s Hilberry Theatre these days. “Side Man,” by Warren Leight, tells the story of a gifted trumpet player and the day-to-day grind of his life in the jazz world. Christopher M. Bohan portrays Gene, a “side man” in the 1940s who plays backup to the star bandleaders.
Clifford, the son of the “side man,” takes you on a personal journey exploring his father’s career and its affects on the family. Jeff Luttermoser, who portrays Clifford, beautifully narrates this story with subtle humor and tenderness. We meet Clifford as he prepares to see his parents separately for one last time before he moves to California for a new job. Luttermoser, much like his character Clifford, is the glue that keeps this story together.
Gene is a brilliantly gifted trumpet player who worked with all the big band greats. His life revolves around music and his friends. Not even the impending arrival of his son diverts him from his first love music. Bohan brings a very benign sensibility to his character.
Terry is played with a great deal of emotion by Megan Callahan. Callahan captures every nuance of being a musician’s wife from naivete to the realization that she will always be second to Gene’s first love, his trumpet.
Gene’s friends, like him, are all highly skilled musicians, each with his own unique talents and idiosyncrasies. Chris Corporandy (Al) and James Kuhl (Ziggy) bring believable portrayals of each character through humor, sensitivity and sadness. Jeff Thomakos portrays a bigger-than-life Jonesy, a guy as vocal as his trombone and as sweet as the melodies he plays.
Patsey (Cynthia D. Baker), the lively and brash waitress, was always there for the gang – serving them in one fashion or another. Baker brings a level of sophistication, sensitivity and humor to her character.
Tony Schmitt’s stage direction brings the audience along throughout the play by such smooth transitions of time, place and character that you feel you are an integral part of the play.
The production staff did an outstanding job of creating this complex world. Their attention to detail and design enhance the momentum of the story.
Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit. Plays in repertory through Feb. 3, 2007. Tickets: $15-$28. For information: 313-577-2972 or http://www.hilberry.com