If Frankie Lymon wasn’t a household name in the 1950s, his New York City-based rock and roll group, The Teenagers, was. Their 1956 single “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” rocketed the group’s members to teen heartthrob status. Lymon, the group’s lead singer, is regarded as the first black teenage singing idol.
Lymon left the group and went out on his own in 1957. His life ended shortly thereafter. Lymon was found dead on his grandmother’s bathroom floor — in the house where he grew up — of a heroin overdose at age 26.
His legacy lives on, in part, thanks to an original local production of “Fool in Love” at the Live Garra Theatre (LGT) in residence at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre.
The team behind the show–LGT’s Artistic Director Wanda Whiteside, Director Thomas W. Jones II and Music Director William Knowles– gave us a glimpse behind the curtain.
Wanda Whiteside, what was the impetus for this show?
I had the pleasure of working with William Knowles, the music director, in 2015 when we worked together on LGT’s production of ‘A Sweet Sip to Bountiful.’ William was the musical inspiration on that project and we discussed the prospect of collaborating on a new work he and his partner, Tom Jones, were developing…. That was a musical production of the Frankie Lymon story, the teen idol of the 1950s, the singer who made the song ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’ so famous.
What were some of the special or unique casting considerations?
Whiteside: Tom, as the director, has the responsibility of casting the performers. We’re really excited about the cast: Rayshun LaMarr as Frankie Lymon, Roz White and Lori Williams. They are seasoned professionals, Helen Hayes Award recipients and have performed with legendary artists such as Yolanda Adams, Stephanie Mills and the late Michael Jackson.
Who is the target audience?
Whiteside: ‘Fool in Love’ is for music lovers; especially for those of us who remember the doo-wop age of rock and roll. It’s also for anyone who wants to enjoy tunes that make you want to twist and shout and have a good time! The play also chronicles the life of a young singer facing the struggles of stardom. There are adult themes present throughout the piece, so it’s not a story for children.
Thomas Jones, what kind of special connection do you have to the Lymon story?
I grew up in a household where doo wop R&B was the soundtrack of our daily life. My reverence for the music and those that wrote and performed are for me held in the highest esteem. My fascination with Frankie Lymon is similar to that of Michael Jackson or Prince — prodigy performers that are both brilliant and plagued by their struggle to overcome their circumstances in the universe. Lymon, not unlike Michael and Prince, arguably, found the circumstances were too much to overcome. What is left is the music. And what a legacy to leave behind.
How long did writing the show take?
Jones: It took William and I about six weeks to finish draft and another few months to complete workshops and then complete the final draft.
Will you be taking this show on the road?
Jones: We are looking at several theaters in Dallas, Atlanta, Las Vegas, among others.
William Knowles, what was your initial interest in the project?
I wanted to work on a project about Frankie Lymon because I love the clean look and sound of the doo-woppers. They were class acts: well-rehearsed, exuberant performances about love and life. Their outlook was hopeful; their future was full of promise. As musicians, they sang in tune, moving in a choral fashion, or occasionally in counterpoint. Frankie can swing. You can tell his ears were with some of the older jazz musicians and I like that musical reference. I love the story of his rise to fame, his youthful ingenuity and the commitment to present the best of life, even if it isn’t always going well.
A Frankie Lymon performance showed the audience a good time. We want to do the same.
“Fool in Love” runs through Nov. 19 at the Live Garra Theatre in residence at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 7 p.m. on Sunday. There are matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. Ticket prices range from $40 to $50. Call 240-603-0798 or visit www.livegarratheatre.org.