Theater / Film

From Miami Beach to NYC: Miami New Drama’s ‘A Wonderful World’ Heading to Broadway

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
March 8, 2024 at 10:55 AM

Miami New Drama’s original world premiere, “A Wonderful World,” a musical about Louis Armstrong, will open on Broadway in previews in October of 2024 with James Monroe Iglehart in the leading role. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Ask playwright Aurin Squire how the Louis Armstrong musical “A Wonderful World” went from a dream to a reality and he’ll tell you it began with a quick lunch meeting on Lincoln Road and then a “very long lunch” at a steakhouse with an ocean view on Miami Beach.

Now, the production, which had its world premiere at Miami New Drama at the Colony Theatre on Miami Beach in 2021, will open on Broadway this fall with previews starting on Oct. 16 and an official opening date of Nov. 11.

Michel Hausmann, artistic director of Miami New Drama, who was the instrumental force behind the production as he put all the people and pieces together, sounds like a proud papa when asked about the Broadway announcement that was trumpeted in the New York Times on Feb. 28.

James Monroe Iglehart, who originated the role of Genie in Disney’s “Aladdin” on Broadway, will play Louis Armstrong in the Broadway production of “A Wonderful World.” (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Daniel)

“This is a Miami play, written by a Miami playwright, produced in Miami by a Miami theater company,” says Hausmann.

The birth of the musical on the Miami New Drama stage wasn’t without its own drama, through no one’s fault. It was March 5, 2020, when the company launched its production at the Colony Theatre. On Friday the 13th, Miami New Drama’s world premiere musical, “A Wonderful World,” had its final preview performance with the gala public opening set for the following night. It was canceled. All of the work (and a considerable amount of money) that had gone into the production was abruptly halted when COVID-19 shut down theaters everywhere.

“The set for ‘Wonderful World’ sat for almost two years at the Colony until we were able to produce it again,” says Hausmann. It opened in previews on Dec. 4, 2021. “Just when Omicron hit. So, we did two full productions (and) both of them had the recurring cast of COVID,” says Hausmann.

Squire, born and raised in Opa-locka, is an award-winning graduate of The Juilliard School’s playwrighting program and received his MFA from Northwestern University. He has already amassed a long list of impressive playwrighting and television writing credits, including co-executive producer of CBS’s “Evil” and “The Good Fight,” and as a staff writer on NBC’s “This Is Us” and “Braindead.”

Playwright Aurin Squire tells the story of jazz great Louis Armstrong through the eyes of his four wives in “A Wonderful World.” (Photo courtesy of Terri Braithwaite)

His path to “A Wonderful World” started while he was back in his hometown working on a commission from Miami New Drama, “Confessions of a Cocaine Cowboy,” which was co-written by Squire and Miamian Billy Corben and directed by Hausmann in the spring of 2019.

“We were in rehearsals for ‘Cowboy’, and we walked about 50 yards from the theater to a lunch spot on Lincoln Road,” says Squire. Hausmann and Squire were meeting Christopher Renshaw, a British director who has helmed “The King and I” on Broadway and in London’s West End, and who was the director for Boy George’s “Taboo” on Broadway and in the West End.

Renshaw has been living in Miami Beach for more than a decade, almost around the corner from Miami New Drama’s resident home at the Colony Theatre.

Squire says the topic of a musical about Louis Armstrong came up: “At the time, it seemed rather farfetched considering all the hoops that had to be jumped through for a musical that big.”

A few days later, there was another meeting with Renshaw and writer and “Wire Magazine” founder Andrew Delaplaine. (Delaplaine has since passed away, in May of 2023).

Then Squire says he went back to New York and returned to Miami for a few more lunches.

“Smith & Wollensky is where the thing started to take shape,” he says.

After that, it was a continuous back and forth, according to Squire, between him, Hausmann at Miami New Drama, Renshaw (who would go on to direct “A Wonderful World”), and Delaplaine, who is credited with conceiving the musical with Renshaw. Thomas and Renee Rodgers, who were investors, were also involved from the very start.

Miami native Aurin Squire, left, wrote the book for “A Wonderful World,” which had its world premiere at Miami New Drama. It was conceived and directed by Broadway and West End director Christopher Renshaw, who is directing the Broadway production. (Photo courtesy of Aurin Squire)

In fact, it was Thomas Rodgers who years before had planted the seed of a Louis Armstrong musical. He had mentioned to Delaplaine, his brother-in-law, and Renshaw that he had read a biography about the musician and thought maybe there was something theatrical that could be done.

But rather than write a biographical show about Armstrong or create a typical jukebox musical, Squire took a different approach.

Squire, who wrote the musical’s book, explains: “The issue with Louis Armstrong’s life is, unlike most jazz musicians, he lived a long life. (He died at the age of 69 in 1971). Trying to find a way to encapsulate that with a person who lived in multiple cities and traveled the world so much was the main struggle . . . You can make 10 musicals out of Louis Armstrong’s life.”

Then the idea came together to have four different seasons of Armstrong’s life.

“And then Chris or Andrew said, ‘Well, you know he had four wives,’ ” recalls Squire.

The wheels in the playwright’s head began turning: “Ah, so maybe they are like the facets of Louis Armstrong, and it fit with the trajectory of jazz and American history in the 20th century.”

The story of the musician’s career is told from the perspective of his four wives. The musical score is made up of songs recorded and made popular by Armstrong, including the famous title song. The show’s music was orchestrated and arranged by Annastasia Victory, a Russian-born pianist, composer, arranger and conductor, and her husband, Michael O. Mitchell, both of whom have worked on a number of Broadway shows.

Miami New Drama artistic director Michel Hausmann pulled all the people and pieces together for “A Wonderful World,” now heading to Broadway. (Photo courtesy of Juancho Hernandez Husband)

There wasn’t a doubt from the get-go when Miami New Drama committed to producing “A Wonderful World” that the ambitious and costly production was aimed at a Broadway stage.

“We would not have been able to produce a show of this (size) without the support we received from Tom and Renee,” says Hausmann, who says the investors never gave up on the musical. For the Broadway production, the Rodgers’ remain as producers with the addition of Martian Entertainment (Carl D. White and Gregory Rae), Vanessa Williams (yes, that Vanessa Williams, who makes her theatrical producing debut with “A Wonderful World”) and her producing partner Liz Curtis.

As the company that originated “A Wonderful World,” Miami New Drama receives a financial percentage of the Broadway production, says Hausmann. Squire adds that “A Wonderful World” on Broadway means even more to Miami in the bigger picture. “A rising tide lifts all boats . . . A Miami product that’s successful will help Miami theater, Miami New Drama . . .”

Starring as Armstrong in the New York production is James Monroe Iglehart, who won a Tony Award as the original Genie in Disney’s “Aladdin”  on Broadway. Iglehart starred in the pre-Broadway tryout runs of  “A Wonderful World” in New Orleans and Chicago in 2023.

Miami actress Lindsey Corey, who was in the Miami New Drama production as Rachel the Reporter and in the ensemble, also played those roles in New Orleans and Chicago. She’s being considered for the Broadway production, says Hausmann. Currently, Corey is getting ready to play Sally Bowles in Zoetic Stage’s production of “Cabaret,” which opens at the Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater on Thursday, March 14.

(Video courtesy of Florida International University’s ArtSpeak (formerly Inspicio). Aurin Squire discusses how development of the play, “A Wonderful World,” came about. Find more video interviews with Squire by clicking here.)

Neither Hausmann nor Squire knew of any other actors from the Miami original production being considered for the Broadway production at this time, with Squire saying, “besides James Iglehart, they haven’t finalized anything.” However, there is a possibility that some of the ensemble members from the Miami production will be in the cast, according to Hausmann.

That the two pre-Broadway tryouts did so well made it “easier to get an agreement with a Broadway theater,” according to the artistic director. The theater where “A Wonderful World” will play is Studio 54 on West 54th Street, owned and operated by the Roundabout Theatre Company since 1998.

Hausmann brings up another Miami connection to “A Wonderful World” and its home on Broadway. Miami New Drama is producing “The Museum Plays,” an interactive theater piece featuring 10-minute short plays (one written by Squire) inside Don and Mera Rubell’s museum in the Allapattah neighborhood of Miami through March 31.

“So, the announcement was made about the Broadway run as we’re currently in production at the Rubell Museum. And Don’s brother, Steve, was the co-founder of Studio 54 (the famous New York City disco founded in the ‘70s) . . . Just a beautiful Miami happenstance.”

Information and tickets, when they become available, will be through roundabouttheatre.org.

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