Reviewed by Dick Kerekes and originally published in EU JACKSONVILLE in 2002 

Theatres throughout the country are dark and shuttered. So what’s a reviewer to do?  Terry Teachout, a well-known New York Times reviewer, has an answer which the Dual Critics are adapting: republish older reviews and articles that will revive the past and bring back memories for theatre lovers. Our first selection, drawn from EU Jacksonville’s extensive collection, is “Side Man,” which was published in 2002.

The 1999 Tony Award Winner, Warren Leight’s “Side Man” debuted last weekend at the Church of the Good Shepherd, currently the home of the Jacksonville Stage Company.

With this production, Jacksonville Stage Company enters its third year with a simple mission: to provide professional quality to North Florida audiences. We have seen almost all their productions and they have certainly lived up to their goals and then some.

First, let me dispel some misconceptions about this play. It is not a jazz musical review. There is taped music in the show but it is part of the plot. And you don’t have to like or know anything about jazz to enjoy it, you simply should like good theatre.

The title needs a bit of explanation which will lead me into a brief outline of the plot. In the 1940s, big bands often used “utility” or “journeymen” musicians when they played various cities and especially when in New York. These performers never became headliners or stars and when the bands began to disappear, they had to scratch out a living doing gigs when and where they could. “Side Man” is a term for a musician hired to perform with a group on an interim basis

The play has three main characters. Clifford Glimmer, the narrator, is the son of Gene and Terry. Clifford”s father has been a jazz trumpet side man for over thirty years.

Gene has three cronies, all sidemen. Al (Kent Lindsey) is a handsome womanizing horn player, while Ziggy (Bill Ratliff) is a frustrated friend who masks his disappointments in jokes and wisecracks. Jonesy (Greg Leute) is down on his luck, a heroin-addicted musician who keeps coming around because his real addiction is playing music.

The play has two women characters. Patsy (Bacot Wright) is a tough waitress with a big heart who fancies musicians, has bedded down with most of the men, and married along the way.

The story begins in 1985 and flashes back to 1953 when Gene and Terry meet and marry; Clifford is born five years later.

Bob Pritchard gives a brilliant performance as Gene, a man who could sense everything when he was blowing his trumpet but almost nothing else when he wasn’t.

Clifford was portrayed by Cary Tijernia who was imported from Texas for the role. He was perfectly cast and you will be rooting for him before the evening is over.

Bill Ratliff, Greg Leute and Kent Lindsey are all award-winning actors with credits all over town and their performances will make you laugh at times and almost cry at others.

Bruce Rutledge’s set design is simple but effective and ranges from a café to a nightclub booth and the Glimmer’s apartment. All are rather seedy because these people were existing mostly on unemployment checks.

Steve Smith did a wonderful job of blending sixteen songs into the flow of the play, giving the audience a real feel for the music and helping us to understand the obvious obsession these musicians had for their trade.

Artistic Director Deborah Jordan, fresh from directing sold-out performances of “Little Shop of Horrors,” has another winner on her hands. We have one smart theatre lady here. Add some of the best actors in town and the best script to come along in the last four or five years and what you get is an outstanding production called “Side Man.”

This play will remain in your mind and heart long after you leave the theatre. If you love theatre then don’t miss “Side Man.” All performances are at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Riverside.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.