Message In The Music

Message In The Music

‘Side Man’ brings family issues to forefront


The New York Times calls it “a gentle reminder of bygone days, when a new play by Tennessee Williams or William Inge would stir up the public and fill seats for months.”

“What appears on the surface to be a familiar domestic drama subtly reflects the passing of an era with persuasive insight,” Variety writes.

And the New York Daily News adds that “framed as a memory play narrated by the son of a skilled, passionate trumpet player, it has, at times, the depth of feeling of an exile longing for home.”

If those rave reviews aren’t persuasive enough, “Side Man,” written by Warren Leight, won the 1999 Tony Award for Best Play. And for fans of the classics, the dramedy — opening Sept. 26 at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith — just might feel a lot like “Our Town,” with music as a bonus.

“I had a chance to see a production about 10 years ago at a festival and thought it was amazing then,” says Bob Stevenson, head of Communication and Theatre Arts at UAFS. “It’s got such a quality of humanity to it that really appeals to me.

“One of the characters helps guide you through the inner life of this family, and for me, that makes the emotional impact of the play (and the comedy) so much stronger,” he explains.

“Side Man” is told through the eyes of Clifford, whose father, Gene, is a jazz trumpet player and whose mother, Terry, is an alcoholic — which leaves Clifford to be the adult. When the advent of Elvis and rock ‘n’ roll causes Gene’s jazz career to limp toward oblivion, Clifford begs him to get a “real” job — and Gene chooses his music over his son.

“This show moves at a breakneck pace, jumping through time and space, reality and memory,” says its director, Andrew Snyder of Chicago, visiting instructor of theater at UAFS. “It touches on hard topics of dysfunctional families, the fall of an industry, and the ability, or inability, to adapt to the changes in times, while taking a humorous reflection on the choices we make throughout our lives.”

“It’s the story of how music (or any art or discipline) can be all consuming and how the world of reality can sometimes tear all that beauty apart, and tear the artist apart at the same time,” adds Stevenson. “It’s about parents and children trying as hard as they can to connect with each other, and not always succeeding. And it’s about how life isn’t always clean and tidy, but it’s always leading us to somewhere we need to be. Great music, great story, great time!

“Music is part and parcel of the show,” Stevenson goes on. “The show chronicles the decline of the big band and jazz scenes in America, and most of the characters are professional musicians. So it would be a disservice to the show to try and avoid it somehow. We’ve got music layered throughout the show — live music and, of course, recorded music as well to capture some of the great performances of history. If you love that era of music, then this should be right up your alley.”

“We are collaborating with Don Bailey and the music department to have a live jazz preshow performance every night we perform,” adds Snyder, who is also a UAFS alumnus. “I’ve been a musician for most of my life as well, so the musicality of the show really resonated with me, as did Leight’s writing style, which is very cinematic in nature. It’s a tough show from page to stage, so I really enjoyed the challenge of making it come to life.”



‘Side Man’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27-28 & Sept. 30-Oct. 1

WHERE — Breedlove Auditorium at UAFS

COST — $6

INFO — 788-7300,

FYI — Rated 16 & older for language and adult themes.

Categories: Theater