Storyville. York Theatre Company (see Off Broadway). Book by Ed Bullins. Music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden. Directed by Bill Castellino. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
Storyville: in brief
Broadway veteran Ernestine Jackson stars in Ed Bullins and Mildred Kayden's musical, about the birth of jazz in the seedy saloons and brothels of New Orleans in the 1910s. Bill Castellino directs the New York premiere.
Storyville: theater review by Adam Feldman
The musical gumbo Storyville, set in the red-light district of 1917 New Orleans, has been simmering on the creative fires for decades. Ed Bullins and Mildred Kayden debuted their show in 1977; since then it has been revised for several productions, the latest of which is now at the York. Despite tasty elements—brassy Tin Pan Alley–style music, frequently well-turned lyrics, a fascinating milieu—the recipe seems off. The stock lacks depth and spice, and there’s corn where it doesn’t belong.
Our occasional narrator is Countess Willy Danger (Ernestine Jackson), tuxedo-clad hostess of a seedy nightclub where loose-moraled black chorines entertain white sailors. The headliner there, Tigre (the statuesque Zakiya Young), catches the eye of a boxer-turned-trumpeter named Butch (Kyle Robert Carter); others in the cast of 13 include rival singer Fifi Foxy (a spunky Debra Walton) and jiggly voodoo priestess Mama Magique (NaTasha Yvette Williams). Although Storyville begins with a funeral procession that forebodes dark events, it remains essentially light. When the plot does thicken in the second act, the writing is too thin to keep up; story strands are left dangling in the rush toward a strangely pat happy ending. (I’ve never seen a more insouciant forced migration.) Still—notwithstanding some pacing and memory problems at the preview I attended, and a general tendency toward overbroad acting—most of the evening moves along pleasantly. While it sidesteps the potential inherent to its subject, Storyville may nonetheless satisfy those who like their musicals big and easy.—Theater review by Adam Feldman
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam
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