Do you know who Louis Prima was? If you think he was a legendary jazz musician from New Orleans with hits including “Just A Gigolo” and “Old Black Magic” you are correct. If you think he’s the guy from that song from the GAP commercials you need a slap. If you think he’s the guy from The Jungle Book that sang “I Wanna Be Just Like You” you’re a child at heart.
“Jump Jive an’ Wail” was a standard in Prima’s repertoire. I fell into his music early in life and craved more. I tell people my gateway drug to Louis Prima was Cole Porter. They smile and keep walking down the market aisle. The blast of the horn, the humor in the voice-I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of this over the top, Sicilian from New Orleans. Are you kidding me? That was many of my favorite things all in one package. Then came the music with Keely Smith………pick me up off the floor. Immediate immersion into Jazz greats commenced. I fell asleep on The Great American Songbook many a night there after. The paper cuts brutalized.
Cut to a few lifetimes in the future. I get to meet a fantastic woman. Stunning, funny and brilliant to boot. She catches me singing some Louis Prima standard and tells me that she’s written and starring in a show devoted to the onstage and offstage relationship of Louis and Keely. Lovingly written, it features many favorite numbers and a band guaranteed to blow my mind. I held on to the promo matchbook she gave me and awaited the opening of “Louis and Keely; Live At The Sahara”. I’m not sure how many times I saw it at The Sacred Fools Theatre in Los Angeles, or at The Geffen Playhouse, but I know it was just shy of ‘Star Wars’ and ten times more than ‘Ishtar’. This was how I met and came to worship Vanessa Stewart (nee Perkins)
OVATION AWARD WINNER for
LA DRAMA CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER for
GARLAND AWARD WINNER for
LA WEEKLY THEATER AWARD WINNER for
MUSICAL OF THE YEAR!
Vanessa is an award-winning playwright, producer and actress. She’s rubbed elbows with dignitaries and celebrities. She’s rubbed elbow pasta for holiday collages.
She has a gift for music. Vanessa can sing the stars down to the earth. It’s been rumored she can breakdance on water. Vanessa makes me laugh. Vanessa gives so much of herself in her life and career, you lose words in describing the effect she has. Every performance I saw of her as Keely Smith was a gift. I can still feel my skin lift in her “Autumn Leaves”. It was rumored that Vanessa was the prototype for the Dos Equis’ “most interesting man” campaign. Vanessa is an insightful writer. Together with co-star Jake Broder, their Louis and Keely Show filled seats night after night. Their thoughtful text with such great music was a dance still spinning in my head. Vanessa rocks, rolls, wraps and cooks nice food. She smells pretty and makes nice things for the universe to play with. Everything she touches seems to flourish (I’ve had her rub my scalp and am still charting the progress) which brings me to a certain night in the Green Room at The Geffen Playhouse.
So there’s this dude named French Stewart, it’s not a pretty common name. But it is a household name (I looked in the pantry). Yep, he’s the actor who played ‘Harry Solomon’ from ‘3rd Rock From The Sun’ and about a million other credits for television, film and stage. He’s genius, he’s funny and he likes my noggin. I’m sure he even as his own line of seasonings if not a hybrid orchid named for him by the Royal Horticultural Society. French is so funny it’s seen from space. He happened to be in the Green Room while Vanessa’s show was enjoying its huge run. They enjoyed some conversation, probably more than a few laughs. She was smitten by his style , he touched by her flourish. That Old Black Magic…..
I have to laugh here, this post is coming across a lot like the Brady Bunch opening and it tickles me almost as much as the subject matter. I digress, back to our show. They courted and fell in love. Vanessa even had French audition for me in the role of suitable suitor (say that a few times, fast). She surprised me at work with a charming dinner companion. I didn’t recognize him but I knew who he was wearing. He had me at, “could we have a bit more bread..”. I quickly approved (both bread and he) and sent them on their way to enjoy some moonlight. They married last year in her old stomping grounds of New Orleans, and you can see how this is all tying together.
Toast of Los Angeles’ Stage and Screen Societies, Vanessa and French Stewart have embarked on their latest adventure, “Stoneface; The Rise And Fall And Rise Of Buster Keaton”. While courting, French told Vanessa that it was a childhood dream to play the legendary screen idol. Vanessa the writer filed that away under “Useful”. A year of research, drafts and patience brought Vanessa to give French an unforgettable birthday gift, “Stoneface”. The missus went and wrote another amazing script for the husband. Text is the new necktie. Currently running in Los Angeles “Stoneface” is enjoying an extended run at The Sacred Fools Playhouse.
“…highly imaginative… ingenious… I was entertained and impressed by Stoneface and wish it a long life.” LEONARD MALTIN
L.A. Times Critic’s Choice: “In the eponymous central role, [French Stewart] displays a comical gravitas entirely fitting to his subject, combined with sheer physical virtuosity that is, quite simply, a revelation…” F. Kathleen Foley, L.A. TIMES
L.A. Weekly GO: “…the most exciting new play to emerge from this theater since Louis & Keely, andone of the best new works of the city’s theatrical season so far…” Steven Leigh Morris, L.A. WEEKLY
“The intensely theatrical joys of “Stoneface” begin early…and continue through one clever scene after another…” Travis Michael Holder, BACKSTAGE
The play is a joy, and the performance a revelation. This must be seen while it’s around. We have the luxury of Internet where what performance you post has the luxury to haunt you open ended. Live theater like this can disappear fast. Go. See. “Stoneface”.
And in her downtime she agreed to come do Dish It Out! I was over the moon. Vanessa has downtime from scaling tall buildings, etc. I had to hurry. What to make? I knew I wanted to make something cajun or creole to remind her of home. It struck me so funny to make a jambalaya as an homage (a french word, French used it) to Louis Prima, her magic show and New Orleans. And there it came: ‘Jumpin’, Jivin’, Jambalaya’. Titles usually come to me in visions (hop, hop). Sometimes they come in cabinet door injuries. But when they come, oooooh are they just deeelicious. A one pot wonder it would be. And a whole bunch of great flavors (like NoLa herself) would be featured. This city boasts an original American cuisine. A cuisine flavored by French, Spanish, Italian, Arcadians, African, Native American and German influences. A great (wait for it) melting pot if you will. And is there any better day to show you Episode 8 than America’s Birthday? Stop me, it’s getting hot in here. Then the story got a little spicier. She called to ask if it was alright to bring French. He’d seen DIO! and thought it would be fun. She assured me he wouldn’t eat too much and our play date was inked. I bought extra bread just to be safe.
Every little thing she does is magic.
We hope you enjoy Episode 8 of Dish It Out! It’s our season finale and it was a joy to make. As always, big thanks to Chris, Marie and Michael for taking such good care of this project and to all of you that came hungry. Thanks for the support and go get yourselves some Jumpin’ Jivin’ Jambalaya with those nutty Stewarts.