Music legend Niles Rodgers tries theater

Terrie Greene | 5/18/2011, 1:06 a.m.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Nile Rodgers, hailed by many in the music industry as one of the best known musician/songwriters and record producers in pop music history, has earned the title pop superstar.

But he’s not into titles and acclaim, he said. It’s all about the music.

Rodgers and Bernard Edwards created the super-group Chic, which hit its 1970’s peak with hits such as “Le Freak” (Warner Bros. best-selling single of all time); and he’s the writer behind the anthem “We Are Family” (recorded by Sister Sledge).

He produced Madonna’s album “Like A Virgin,” the songs “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl” by David Bowie, Duran Duran’s “Notorious,” the B-52’s “Cosmic Thing” (which spawned “Love Shack”), Diana Ross’s hit-filled “Diana,” not to mention collaborations with Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel and a roster of other pop and rock luminaries.

Then there are the dozen film compositions, including “Coming to America.”

And that’s only a fraction of his footprint in the industry.

Rodgers’ latest project is the stage musical “DoubleTime,” which has brought him to Montgomery. A collaboration with John Walch, Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s writer-in-residence, the play is part of the Southern Writers’ Project's Festival of New Plays.

After the play’s 1:30 p.m. concert reading last week Saturday in ASF’s Octagon Theatre, Rodgers will find time for a “Kick Back,” a laid-back discussion with the audience.

He and Walch have spent five years developing “DoubleTime,” a story about a young white playwright trying to tell the story of Leonard Harper. Harper was a real-life Alabama native who became one of the first superstar African American Broadway performers, only to fade into obscurity after his peak in the late 1920’s -- a time when he helped establish the careers of Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller.

As the playwright struggles, he’s guided by the tap-dancing spirit of Harper himself.

The play merges the music of Harper’s era with contemporary music Rodgers composed specifically for the production

The play merges the music of Harper’s era with contemporary music Rodgers composed specifically for the production. Walch said that aspect was essential in creating the play.

“We have Nile Rodgers - we don’t want to not have contemporary music,” said Walch, who calls Rodgers “a collaborative genius who has been amazing to work with.”

Rodgers said the years of work the duo has put into “DoubleTime” have paid off.

“It’s flying. It’s soaring,” Rodgers said of the play during a recent phone interview from his home in Connecticut. “It gets better and better. We have been up until the wee hours of the morning. A massive amount of research has gone into this project.

“When you find a figure like Leonard Harper -- for all the great things he did, he’s a relatively obscure figure. Once John started to edify me, I got fascinated,” Rodgers said of Harper, who was the only black impresario to bring a Harlem Revue to Broadway. The pair recorded the first demos with the Louis Armstrong Heritage Band, which included quite a few Harper aficionados.