The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
It was a stunning day . . . A beautiful, crystal clear, cloudless Fat Tuesday. All of Back o' town - no, all of New Orleans was there. The Baron is King Rex and more beautiful than the eyes can bear, on the Baron's arm was Tigre Savoy - the first Black Queen of Mardi Gras. A day none of us will be ever forget - not just an ending - we didn't know it then - but it was the beginning. The beginning of a new beginning of something we may never understand.— Countess
(Center) Debra Walton as Fifi Foxy with Karen Burthwright (left) and Dameka Hayes (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
A loud fanfare is heard and down the center aisle and toward the stage comes a funeral procession in the jubilant New Orleans style. All the mourners are dressed in black carrying either fans or umbrellas and are led by the strutting Marshall in top hat and tails. The man in the coffin is indeed dead, but certainly not the others in Storyville a very lively musical that has had several regional productions over the past thirty five years and is finally being seen in New York. . . at the York.

For some of us, the story/history of Storyville will be new, but it was evidently intriguing for composer-musicologist Mildred Kayden who knew what a sporting musical adventure might be spun around the notorious section of New Orleans that met its fate in 1917.

Arguably the birthplace of Jazz, Storyville was the place where those black musicians who primarily played in the many prosperous and well-attended sporting houses were suddenly forced to vacate and travel north carrying with them the sprouting seeds of a new musical genre. Augmented with a (often revised) serviceable book by the renowned African-American playwright Ed Bullins, Storyville takes us back to the infamous red light district known as "Back O' Town" in 1917 up to the point where federal action issued the demolition of this area of around eighteen blocks.

There is a lot of music but also a lot of story behind Storyville , as exemplified by the Marshall a.k.a. Countess Willie Danger (an insinuatingly sardonic Ernestine Jackson) with running narration that begins with "Once upon a time in Storyville. . . " This lets the collaborators off the hook when it comes to melding facts with fiction and interpolating some overly romanticized characters within the reality of political corruption. But this show doesn't pretend or intend to get down to the nitty-gritty of brothel life or the hard-scrabble life of black musicians. It does, however, allude to the power and profiteering of white politicos and how closely aligned they were to the burgeoning music scene.

It doesn't take long after itinerate trumpeter and former prize-fighter Butch "Cobra" Brown" (good-looking and personable Kyle Robert Carter) wanders into town that his trumpet is stolen. Despite some supportive conjuring by Mama Magique (NaTasha Yvette Williams), it takes a while for him to compete with Storyville's most successful band leader and ruler of the music scene Hot Licks Sam (a swaggering Michael Leonard James.) Although he tries to be his own man, he is soon manipulated to abet slimy mobster-Mayor Mickey Mulligan (D.C. Anderson) in his dirty doings. Competition in the romance department comes from a smarmy entrepreneur and drug dealer Baron Fontainebleau (Carl Wallnau) who has offered to take Butch's girl friend glamorous band singer Tigre Savoy (Zakiya Young) to Paris.

I would bet that Storyville has the largest cast ever assembled on the stage of the York Theatre. But under the fast-moving direction of Bill Castellino and the ebullient choreography by Mercedes Ellington, the stage is never uncomfortably jammed, although jamming is a given. The principals, all of whom have big voices and engaging personalities, have plenty of room to shine individually as well as in the ensemble numbers, many featuring a bevy of sexy, just lewd-enough showgirls. Standout among them is Debra Walton, as adorable trouble-maker Fifi Foxy. The risqué costumes designed by Nicole Wee are another standout feature.

Although much of the action takes place in a seedy nightclub with the instrumentalists on a raised platform on the right and the pianist on the left, the scenic design by James Morgan is most notable for being framed by reproductions of the actual photographs of prostitutes taken during the early years of the 20th century by E.J. Bellocq. An exhibit of similar photographs, some quite provocative, is on display in the lobby.

Kayden's ambitious score of about twenty-one songs is a breezy mixture of ballads and blues, rags and marches peppered with a taste of the New Orleans sound. There are hints in the score that will someday define the coming revolution in American music. What we hear, however, are still basically show-tunes. Kayden's lyrics may not have the level of sophistication that marks her melodies, but they peak humorously in the delightful song and dance "Boulevardier." ("The new chanteusie, goodbye to the bluesy, singing a new sound, fifty million Frenchman can't be wrong.")

Evidently on a roll with the York Theatre which produced Ionescopade (another musical from Kayden's trunk that is once again making the rounds), Storyville embraces the time and the place with affection if not total authenticity. Capturing the flair and the flavor of the score, the terrific band, under the direction of William Foster McDaniel played on after the curtain calls to a tremendous reception from an audience that was reluctant to leave.

One might quibble with some plot points that are left dangling and a few musical numbers that stray toward pastiche, as well as with the overall mood of Storyville that veers, without apology, from the woefully melodramatic to the wickedly cheerful. From what I understand, Storyville has undergone many resurrections and has variable running times up to three hours. No amount of conjuring or cutting, however, is likely to turn this now two-hours and fifteen minute musical into a smash hit. It is, however, a consistently diverting entertainment.

Book by Ed Bullins
Music and Lyrics by Mildred Kayden
Cast: Ernestine Jackson (Countess Willy Danger), D.C. Anderson (Mayor Mickey Mulligan), Michael Leonard James (Hot Licks Sam), Kyle Robert Carter (Butch "Cobra" Brown), Debra Walton (Fifi Foxy), NaTasha Yvette Williams (Mama Magique), Zakiya Young (Tigre Savoy), Clifton Samuels (Salt Water Franky, Insurance Man), Dameka Hayes (Texas Tea), Karen Burthwright (Tango Rose), Carl Wallnau (Baron Fontainebleau), Cory Bretsch (Tommy McG, Police Chief), Christopher Spaulding (Baby Face Benny, Naval Officer), Leajato Robinson (Hot Feet Punchie)
Scenic Design: James Morgan
Costume Design: Nicole Wee
Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb
Sound Design: Janie Bullard
Choreography: Mercedes Ellington
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes including intermission
York Theatre Company at Saint Peter's (Entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue) (212) 935 - 5820
Tickets: $67.50
Performances: Monday - Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; and Saturday at 2:30 pm and 8 pm.
From 07/15/13 Opened 07/23/13 Ends 08/17/13
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 07/22/13
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Storyville
  • I disagree with the review of  Storyville
  • The review made me eager to see  Storyville
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2013, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from