|Marta McKinnon as Lil Hardin|
Its central question - "If the world didn't have a Lil, would it have had a Louis?" - doesn't get a clear answer, but is something to ponder. The young Satchmo encountered Lil Harden after he moved to Chicago to join horn man Joe "King" Oliver's Creole Jazz Band.
They soon shed their prior spouses and married. The classically trained and college-educated Lil played piano in some of the bands in which Louis worked, wrote songs for him, and for a time became his manager. And she eventually got him to break out of the bands of Oliver and Fletcher Henderson to carve his own path. In short, she convinced him he didn't need to play second fiddle - or, in this case, second cornet - to another bandleader.
This two-act play digs into the couple's creativity, passion and pain - as Louis embraces stardom. He loves Lil, the second of four wives, but also was an unrepentant womanizer. Michael Kinsey of Sarasota's Westcoast Black Theatre ensemble, revealed the many facets of Louis the man. He gets extra credit here - stepping into the role just five days before Lil & Louis opened on Tuesday, January 21.