Writer and director, Greg Mosse talks about his new show Lady of Jazz coming to Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester.
What is Lady of Jazz about?
Lady of Jazz is about a poor girl with mixed-race parentage who, in the 1920s in New Orleans, grows up to be a famous jazz singer in her daddy’s band.
Can you tell us about the music in the show?
The music is inspired by the great Bessie Smith and the extraordinary Louis Armstrong. Ten songs are original – ragtime, Charleston, blues – and four are standards like ‘Frankie & Johnny’ and ‘Careless Love’.
Why did you choose to mix up original songs and classics?
I tried to make the show work by weaving together classic songs, but I couldn’t do it. So I wrote some ‘tribute’ songs with original words and tunes that could carry the story.
What first got you interested in 1920s jazz and blues?
I worked as a director with a brilliant jazz singer and her pianist on her own collection of cover versions of original 1920s hits. It reminded me of how much I love that music.
Why did you choose a one woman play to explore this topic?
Lady of Jazz feels really intimate, like Honey Grey becomes your friend as she tells you how she rose from pennilessness – then nearly lost it all once more. There’s a depth of contact you don’t often get in multi-voice plays.
Is this Michaela Bennison’s first leading role? How important to you was it to have a relatively unknown actor create the character?
Michaela has played leads before – Shakespeare’s Juliet, for example – but she has never carried a whole show on her shoulders. I cast her because she is a wonderful actor, capable of dominating the theatre. In performance, she is incredibly engaging – just like I imagined Honey Grey.
Are there any plans to make the soundtrack available?
I’ve made available some excerpts from the show and some video footage from rehearsals. We are going to record the album in the New Year.
Is there anything else you would like to say about the show?
Honey’s a fantastic character, but civil rights, poverty, and the evolution of 20th century popular music also have parts to play.
Lady of Jazz premiered at Ink Festival 2019 and is at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester from 11-13 November 2109.