By Juan Barquin
By Ciara LaVelle
By George Martinez
By Kat Bein
By Ciara LaVelle
By Travis Cohen
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Monica McGivern
All the core members of Storyville have extensive stage credits, including Broadway experience, and it shows. Countess Dolly (Ernestine Jackson) reigns over the opening funeral procession and the entire production. As the brothel's madam and the consort of good ol' boy and New Orleans kingpin Commissioner Mickey P. Mulligan (Murray Gaby), Jackson displays a presence both commanding and regal.
Storyville's central conflict arises from the struggle between two incompatible bed partners: success and dignity. This theme of selling out plants the seeds that really took root in groundbreaking musicals such as Michael Bennett's Dreamgirls, the story of a black singing group that rises from the ghetto to national fame and fortune in the Sixties. (Hall also starred in a national production of Dreamgirls.) Although Storyville is much less complex than a show like Dreamgirls, the actors and director Marion J. Caffey are masterful creators of character. Each character has a distinct persona and musical voice that converts the stage into a veritable feast of colorful personae and outstanding singing voices. In one number, "Makin' It," the sophisticated but fiery Tigre has a run-in with the diva of all prostitutes, FiFi (Myiia Watson-Davis). Watson-Davis's gritty, soulful voice grabbing at Hall's more classically trained sound makes for a devastating duel, as FiFi spits out: "We're all whore to someone." As Butch, Bailey also shows his force as both a dancer and a singer. His timing is impeccable and his movements surprisingly smooth for such a large man. When Butch belts out his passions for Tigre and for jazz in tunes like "Feel That Jazz" and "Rollin' up the River," his deep baritone voice leaves nothing in its wake.
It's a treat to have the constant presence of a seven-piece band, conducted by pianist William Foster McDaniel with musical arrangements by Danny Holgate. Live music is vital to any musical performance but it's indispensable to such a jazz-infused show. The visual presence of the band creates the feeling of bustling activity and spontaneity for which the red-light district was known.
Storyville. Written by Ed Bullins, music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden, directed by Marion J. Caffey. Starring Ernestine Jackson, Katura, Tristan Montague, Murray Gaby, Adrian Bailey, Myiia Watson-Davis, and La Tanya Hall. Through April 1 at the Shores Performing Arts Theater, 9806 NE 2nd Ave, Miami Shores; 305-751-0562.
The dancers possess the skill and energy that mark a talented chorus. Technically speaking the dance numbers are not incredibly intricate, but each actress assumes her persona and area of sexual expertise in a number called "The Blue Book" and maintains this character throughout the performance while managing to stay part of a unified and energetic group.
The standout number of the night is undeniably Big Mama (Katura) doing "The Best Is Yet to Be," in which she implores Tigre to relinquish her obstinacy and make up with Butch. Pummeling Tigre and the audience with wave after wave of electrifying gospel power, Katura brings down the house.
At the end of Storyville, Tigre, Butch, and Punchie are headed off to make their own fortune as performers on the riverboats -- a happy ending we are eager to believe because we like the characters so much. While it's true the play doesn't reveal anything new to us about the time and place, the tremendous talent Caffey has assembled does remind us that a musical with outstanding showmanship and music can still find its way to South Florida's stages.