A Wonderful World Musical – The Life and Loves of Louis Armstrong

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Broadway in Chicago introduces a brand new musical, a Wonderful World, which focuses on the life and many loves of famed jazz and blues legend, Louis Armstrong. The Broadway bound  musical stars Tony Award® winner James Monroe Iglehart. Told from the perspective of the women in Armstrong’s life, A WONDERFUL WORLD charts Armstrong’s journey from the birth of jazz in his native New Orleans through his international stardom, featuring beloved songs recorded and made popular by him, including “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “When You’re Smiling,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and more.

Ta’Rea Campbell (Lucille Wilson), Khalifa White (Daisy Parker), Jennie Harney-Fleming (Lil Hardin), Brennyn Lark (Alpha Smith) in A Wonderful World ©Jeremy Daniel

Conceived by Drama Desk Award winner and Tony Award nominee, Christopher Renshaw (Broadway’s The King and I, Taboo), and novelist Andrew Delaplaine and directed by Renshaw, A WONDERFUL WORLD has an original book by Aurin Squire (“This is Us,” “The Good Fight,” “Evil”) and features songs recorded and made popular by Armstrong. 

James Monroe Iglehart as Louis Armstrong in A Wonderful World ©Jeremy Daniel

Wife and husband team Annastasia Victory (Caroline, or Change, Once on This Island) and Michael O. Mitchell (MJ the Musical, Motown the Musical) provide original compositions, arrangements, orchestrations, music supervision and direction. Choreography is by Rickey Tripp (Associate Choreographer for Broadway’s Once on This Island and Choir Boy). DeWitt Fleming, Jr. (TV: “Boardwalk Empire,” NY City Center Encores!: The Tap Dance Kid) provides Specialty Tap Choreography. Christina Sajous serves as Associate Director, Aurelia Michael as Associate Choreographer and Alysha Morgan as Associate Specialty Tap Choreographer. 

James Monroe Iglehart as Louis Armstrong and DeWitt Fleming Jr. as Lincoln Perry in A Wonderful World ©Jeremy Daniel

The impressive scenic and projection design is imagined by Adam Koch and Steven Royal. Authentic and creative costume design is by four-time Tony Award nominee Toni-Leslie James. The amazing lighting design is by Cory Pattak. Sound design is by Tony Award winner Kai Harada. Hair and Wig design are by Cookie Jordan.

I am a huge Louis Armstrong fan, and highly enjoyed this musical journey into his life and the perspective of his past female loves. My friend also loved the musical. It was charismatic, entertaining, energetic and vibrant storytelling. 

Company in A Wonderful World ©Jeremy Daniel

The production could not have been more perfectly cast. James Monroe Igleha as Armstrong blew us away. He naturally adapted the original Armstrong’s deep, raspy voice, overall demeanor, stage presence and infectious stage and performing personality. It felt like we were experiencing the real Louis Armstrong live. He easily commanded a strong stage presence throughout the entire show. 

Beyond impressive were the four leads who played Armstrong’s four wives including Ta’Rea Campbell (Lucille Wilson), Jennie Harney-Fleming (Lil Hardin), Brennyn Lark (Alpha Smith) and Khalifa White (Daisy Parker). They were all completely different in looks, personality and goals, but extremely talented in their own right. Kudos also to the amazing supporting cast that helped bring A Wonderful World to life! The production could not have gone on without them. 

Jennie Harney Fleming as Lil Hardin and James Monroe Iglehart as Louis Armstrong in A Wonderful World ©Jeremy Daniel

Besides the wonderful cast of performers, the other stars in A Wonderful World were the sets, stage design and costumes. The sets were minimal but beautiful and fulfilled their purpose to the story. There was also, of course, Armstrong’s beloved musical hits, which were cleverly written into the story. 

A Wonderful World featured a blend of humor, happiness and tragedy. The funny scenes kept the audience on its feet, especially when Monroe Igleha encouraged audience participation. The musical also worked well in the sense of how Armstrong’s music and songs were put into the story, and how it all fit into his life. 

Khalifa White as Daisy Parker, Jennie Harney Fleming as Lil Hardin, TaRea Campbell as Lucille Wilson and Brennyn Lark as Alpha Smith in A Wonderful World ©Jeremy Daniel

The only aspect that we felt could be altered a bit before heading to Broadway is to not overdraw the scenes. Some scenes felt awkward or not flawlessly blended into each other. I also wished that the story had focused on Armstrong’s personal perspectives of his many females, as well as his own life experiences. It would have been interesting to see the viewpoints from both sides. 

Overall, I highly recommend seeing A Wonderful World before it leaves Chicago. The musical is perfect for Louis Armstrong fans, or anyone who enjoys entertaining stories or people brought to life with memorable music and performers. 

Photos: Jeremy Daniel

Playing at Cadillac Palace Theatre. Purchase tickets on the website.

Dates: October 12 – October 29, 2023

Runtime: 2 hours and 40 minutes including intermission

Recommended for ages 13+. Parental discretion advised. The show contains strong language and mature content.

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