Before Berry Gordy and Motown Records, there was John Dolphin and the Dolphins of Hollywood Record Shop. Entrepreneur, businessman, concert promoter and record producer, “Lovin” John Dolphin (superb triple threat performer Stu James) was also an activist who organized a protest of the rampant intimidation of Black-owned businesses in the famous jazz district of Central Avenue. His store lured buyers of all ethnicities from all over Los Angeles. Dolphins of Hollywood was famed for being open twenty-four hours a day, and for broadcasting music, live and recorded, with DJ Dick “Huggy Boy” Hugg (Matt Magnusson, another high-wattage, triple threat actor) at the mike.
The infectious musical, Recorded in Hollywood, with book by Matt Donnelly and Jamelle Dolphin (John Dolphin’s grandson) and music and lyrics by Andy Cooper, tells the story of Dolphin’s triumphs and trials over a ten-year period from 1948 to 1958. Unable to secure a location in Hollywood proper due to racial fear and bias, he opened up shop at Vernon and Central in the heart the African American neighborhood. There he thrived, finding new talent like Sam Cook (Thomas Hobson), Jesse Belvin (Wilkie Ferguson III) and others. Recorded in Hollywood is also the story of the romance and tribulations of John’s marriage to his beloved wife Ruth, played by Jenna Gillespie, she of the soaring voice and electric presence. The show also represents his run-ins with the police and his philanderings.
The story line may be thin, but the show is all about the music and dance and that is just great, keeping a smile on my face for most of the show. The ensemble—Ashley Lynette Brown, Caitlin Gallogly, Franklin Grace, Gabi Hankins, Dylan Hoffinger, Alfred Jackson, Bren Thor Johnson, Ryan Murray, Joël René, Tyler Ruebensaal, Matthew Lewis Sims, Jr., Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield, Katherine Washington and Emily Zetterberg—sings up a storm and dances with energetic precision.
As the Hollywood Flames, Franklin Grace, Frank Lawson (who doubles as Leon Washington, LA Sentinel’s founding publisher), Alfred Jackson and Matthew Lewis Sims, Jr., are authentic with smooth moves and tight harmonies. As the frustrated singer/song writer Percy Ivy, Eric B. Anthony bursts with energy and awkward enthusiasm. He sings inappropriate lyrics, dances with wild abandon, and seethes with a tragic frustration. It is a terrific performance.
Director Denise Dowse keeps the pace brisk. Cassie Crump’s choreography is tight and inventive. The band, under the direction of Abdul Hamid Royal, plays with verve. Some lyrics are occasionally lost, however, when the sound balance between singers and performers favors the band, mostly in the big ensemble numbers.
Recorded in Hollywood boasts a first rate cast, lots of music and dance, and a good story. What more can you ask? The show runs through August 7 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.