A Tuff Shuffle

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Actor to bring Louis Armstrong to life in Salisbury

For the Salisbury Post

Actor and playwright Danny Mullen has had a lifelong fascination with Louis Armstrong, beginning during his childhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., when he saw Armstrong on the Ed Sullivan Show.
“That got my attention,” Mullen reminisces, “because he was black, like me, and performing on national television.”
Then, in junior high, he recalls a “Weekly Reader” article about NASA sending a satellite out into space with earth artifacts, a sampler of earth life that might be found by other life out there somewhere. It included Louis Armstrong recordings.
As a college student, Mullen became further smitten when he saw the movie, “Good Morning, Vietnam” which includes Armstrong’s memorable rendition of the song “What a Wonderful World.”
Then, in 1990, Mullen was browsing in a bookstore where Gary Gidden’s picture-filled biography, “Satchmo: the Genius of Louis Armstrong” caught his eye. Mullen couldn’t put it down, admiring the photos of Louis Armstrong with his giant smile, dressed in a tuxedo with a rose in his lapel. As he read, he felt a real connection.
“I was reminded of my father and uncles who used to sit in the garage eating pigs feet and playing checkers.”
Mullen’s realization that, in spite of celebrity, Armstrong was not that much different than he himself, finally led to the creation in 2000 of his one-man show, “A Tuff Shuffle – Backstage with Louis Armstrong.” In it, Mullen portrays Armstrong in 1957, backstage after a show.
“After each concert, Louis Armstrong would be backstage greeting fans from all walks of life,” explains Mullen. “There would be rich and poor, a mayor, clergy, prostitutes, detectives, shoeshine boys, a motley crew, all there together in the dressing room.”
With Mullen’s portrayal, his intention is to draw his own audience in also, make them feel like they’ve been transported back to 1957 where they are sitting backstage with Satchmo himself.
Mullen chose 1957 as the setting because it was a particularly turbulent time for Armstrong. That was the year he cancelled what was to have been a State Department goodwill tour of the USSR in order to get President Eisenhower’s attention, demanding that federal troops be sent to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce integration of the schools.
Mullen brought to his creation of this work not only a background in theatre but a career as an educator. He has a master’s degree in American Studies and worked as a public school teacher in Buffalo, NY, while acting with theatre companies in his spare time. He later relocated to Charlotte, his current home, where he taught middle school, and then taught arts and history courses from 2008-10 at Salisbury’s Livingstone College. He is now teaching history on the Charlotte campus of University of Phoenix.
Mullen has written other plays, including a one-man show about Marcus Garvey and “Mine Eyes,” a play about the Civil War. Mullen is also an expert on Civil War history from the African-American viewpoint.
“A Tuff Shuffle” has taken Mullen places, including performances off-Broadway in New York, in Edinburgh, Scotland, in Canada at Niagra Falls, and in Armstrong’s birthplace of New Orleans. He has had the opportunity to perform the show as part of the National Black Theatre Festival and Theatre of the American South.
And next it brings him to Salisbury. “A Tuff Shuffle” will be presented in the Looking Glass Black Box Theater, 405 N. Lee St. on Friday, Dec. 28. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Concessions will be available. Admission is $10.
Due to mature content, the show is not recommended for children.
For more information, contact LGAC at salisburyartists@gmail.com or call 704-633-2787.