STORYVILLE -- At Fords Theater through March 4.
The last flourish of New Orleans' sin-and-jazz district, until its closing in 1917, is the subject of a new musical, "Storyville," at Ford's Theater, as it was earlier this year of the film "pretty Baby."
That rich mixture of the races, of new musicians with old prostitutes, the burst of jazz's birth-in the lounging places of playedout sinners, and the remnants of turn-of-the-century atomsphere being overtaken by the jangled World War I period is irresistible. It oozes with drama.
The panoply of lattices that John Lee Beatty uses in his "Storyville" set, which seems to push out of its physical limits like an exotic fungus, captures this atmosphere before anyone steps on stage. It's lit in red and blue, the red-light district, as captured by the blues.
As the stage is peopled, the expected types appear: Big Mama Little, an upholstered patchwork of folk wisdom and magic (Edye Byrde); Dotie Doyle, her buxom and feather-hatted white counterpart (Laura Waterbury); Tigre Savoy, a beautiful aloof "colored" singer (Yahee); Butch "Cobra" Brown (Ira Hawkins), a fighter abandoning the ring for the trumpet, who is also the proverbial "good man" otherwise impossible to find, especially in Storeyville, as the district was actually called.
Although these parts are well played, and Arthur Faria's choreography puts them into pleasing patterns, the show, in its preview at the beginning of the week, had not yet jelled. There were plans to do some needed cutting by this weekend's official opening, and the oil of use is necessary to make a smoothly running show where the cracks of fitting pieces together were visible. Certainly the elements of a good musical are there and should, with work, emerge during the six-week run.
One disappointment, however, is bound to remain. As "Pretty Baby" fictionalized the biography of a photographer and itself featured fine photography, "Storyville" ought to have been a showcase of the best in early jazz. It is not. Mildred Kayen's songs are good, but not memorable. The trumpetplaying hero plays only a few notes on the trumpet, the part having understandably been written for a song-and-dance man rather than a musician.