By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
All of 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 '60s. (Hall also starred in a national production of that show.) Although Storyville is much less complex than Dreamgirls, the actors and director Marion J. Caffey are masterful creators of character. Each character has a distinct, colorful persona and an outstanding singing voice, which convert the stage into a veritable smorgasbord of entertainment. In one number, "Makin' It," the sophisticated but fiery Tigre has a run-in with the prima donna of all prostitutes, FiFi (Myiia Watson-Davis). Watson-Davis' 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 singer. His timing is impeccable and his movements surprisingly smooth for such a large man. When Butch belts out his passions for Tigre and jazz music in tunes like "Feel That Jazz" and "Rollin' up the River," his deep baritone voice leaves nothing in its wake.
The constant presence of a seven-piece band, conducted by pianist William Foster McDaniel with musical arrangements by Danny Holgate, is a real treat. Live music is vital to any musical performance but indispensable to such a jazz-infused show. The visual presence of the band creates the feeling of bustling activity and spontaneity for which the 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 Shores Performing Arts Theater, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores, 305-751-0562.
The talented chorus possesses skill and energy. The dance numbers are not technically intricate, but each chorine establishes her character's personality and area of sexual expertise in a number called "The Blue Book" and maintains this identity throughout the performance while still being 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. Musically pummeling Tigre and the audience with wave after wave of electrifying gospel-style power, Katura brings down the house.
At the end of Storyville, Tigre, Butch, and young Punchie are headed off to make their own fortune as riverboat performers -- a happy ending we are eager to believe because we like the characters so much. While the play doesn't reveal anything new about the place, the time, or its inhabitants, the tremendous talent Caffey has brought together does remind us that a musical with outstanding showmanship and music can still succeed on a South Florida stage.