Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Black Theatre Troupe
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Kiss and Tell, The Seth Rudetsky Series Starring Audra McDonald, Educating Rita and Holmes and Watson

The Cast
Photo by D4G Photography
The musical Storyville, now playing in a lively and energetic production by Black Theatre Troupe, focuses on the inhabitants of the notorious section of New Orleans that was, arguably, the birthplace of jazz. While the show is overly long and leaves a few plot lines dangling, it features intriguing characters and a score that's a lively mash of jazz and traditional musical theatre songs.

Set in the "Back O' Town" red light district of Storyville, the plot centers on Butch "Cobra" Brown (Andre Neal), a former heavyweight champion turned trumpeter who just got into town and has already had his horn stolen. Looking for a place to stay, he finds a room to rent from Big Mama Little (Cherylandria Banks) and also meets Tigre Savoy (Akira Goggins), a singer who is the headliner at the Bird Box Cabaret club run by "Mayor" Mickey P. Mulligan (James Shin).

Butch falls for Tigre and, since he wants to focus on music instead of fighting, enters the Golden Horn contest with the hope to be crowned the King of Fat Tuesday but, unfortunately, has to compete against the reigning champion of the contest, Storyville's successful bandleader and horn player, Hot Licks Sam (Frederick Alphonso). Will Butch fall prey to the dealings of the slimy Mulligan and lose Tigre to the wealthy Baron Charles De Frontbleau (Jeffrey Middleton), who wants to take Tigre back to Paris with him, or find a way to make money with his music and make a home with Tigre and her son Georgie "Punchie" Savoy (Elisha Mack)?

While the book by Ed Bullins doesn't give too much historical information on the city in the show's title, a brief bit of context may help make some of the action in the plot a bit clearer. Storyville was the area of New Orleans regulated to house prostitution in 1897. Named after City Councilman Sidney Story, who proposed the guidelines for the 18-block area, it thrived for twenty years as New Orleans' red light district and, arguably, the birthplace of jazz where Black musicians played in the many clubs in the area, including Louis Armstrong, until it met its fate in 1917 when prostitution was made illegal and the area demolished.

Bullins' book touches upon a few of those subjects, including the Blue Books where the names and addresses of prostitutes in the area could be found, but also is a bit jarring when, all of a sudden, it's said that the area is closing down when there was minimal lead up to that moment. There are also some pacing issues in the book and in Patdro Harris' staging and direction that threaten to slow the show down. While Mildred Kayden's score is bright and lively, there is a somewhat disjointed song stack, especially in the second act when there is a succession of several dialogue-heavy scenes without any songs to help move them along.

Fortunately, Harris' direction has the 16-member cast depict characters that are beyond caricatures and they are all capable of breathing life into the colorful characters to create individuals that feel authentic. Andre Neal is charming, with a bright singing voice and strong stage presence as Butch. As Tigre, Akira Goggins has the right demeanor for a women who thinks that men are trouble and is cautious of Butch. Frederick Alphonso is great as Hot Licks Sam, and Cherylandria Banks is full of warmth as Big Mama Little; her second act song, "The Best is Yet to Be" is a knockout.

Rico Burton is full of life as the "Countess" Dolly Danger; James Shin is charming, slimy and manipulative as "Mayor" Mickey P. Mulligan; and Jeffrey Middleton is smarmy as Baron Charles De Frontbleau, the wealthy entrepreneur who is into illegal activities. Lotus Numari is smart and sassy as Fifi Foxy, a dancer at the club who is on the prowl to find a man, and Elisha Mack is bright and endearing as Tigre's son. The ensemble are engaging, spirited, and expertly deliver Harris' lively and varied choreography.

Brenda Hankins' music direction is bright and the six-member band is superb; Joseph Leyva's trumpet solos are exceptional. The scenic design by Sarah Harris is fairly static but effective and Cody Soper's lighting delivers rich stage images that change appropriately for the day, evening, and nightclub scenes in the show. The costume, hair, and make-up designs by Joshua Walker are bright and colorful and also period and character appropriate.

While Storyville has a touch of melodrama, it's also an upbeat musical full of colorful characters that embraces the time and events in this century ago area with affection. With a very good cast and a fantastic band, Black Theatre Troupe's production will keep your toes tapping and the joint jumping as it captures the flair and music of Storyville.

Storyville runs through April 7, 2024, a The Black Theatre Troupe production, at Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center, 1333 East Washington Street, Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling 602 258-8129

Directed and Choreography by Patdro Harris
Music Direction by Brenda Hankins
Scenic Design: Sarah Harris
Lighting Design: Cody Soper
Costume, Hair, and Make-up Design: Joshua Walker
Sound Design: Alfred Maldonado
Stage Managers: Mickey Parent & Tony Wheaton

"Countess" Dolly Danger: Rico Burton
Hot Licks Sam: Frederick Alphonso
Big Mama Little: Cherylandria Banks
Georgie "Punchie" Savoy: Elisha Mack
"Mayor" Mickey P. Mulligan: James Shin
Butch "Cobra" Brown: Andre Neal
Fifi Foxy: Lotus Numari
Franky: John Pene
Tigre Savoy: Akira Goggins
Baron Charles De Frontbleau: Jeffrey Middleton
Texas: Shaylee Flanagan
Tango Rose: Jessica Ortiz Sanroman
Salome: Tajzina Holmes
Black Benny: Rodney Raysinn Rayford
No Nose Nick: Kenneth Bails
Steward: Tyson Lund