Like In the Heights, the recent happy musical set in New York’s Washington Heights, South Street, the new musical that had its world premiere this week at the Pasadena Playhouse, also glorifies a neighborhood.
The setting is Philadelphia, home of the Phillies, the cheesesteak sandwich, and Sammy’s Place. This last being an old firehouse cum strip-joint, and now a local saloon owned by Sammy Silverstein and frequented by a large group of neighborhood regulars.
In fact, the first thing that strikes you about this production is the huge cast: some 27 fabulous singers and dancers. You just don’t see that many performers on one stage any more. Kudos to director Roger Castellano who keeps them all moving with ease.
The second thing you notice is Andy Walmsley’s beautiful sets. First, the street itself, with all its signs and posters, and then an all-purpose swivel that turns the stage into the inside of Sammy’s Place. It’s a little seedy, but framed by huge arched windows (remember, this used to be a firehouse), and beautifully lit and shadowed by lighting designer Brian Monahan.
South Street has a simple and predictable plot, written by Craig Carlisle, that is mainly a device to hang Richard Addrisi’s tuneful songs on. (Some really lovely, some less so.) As the story begins, a pretty girl, Cloe (Maria Eberline) and her younger brother Norton (Andy Scott Harris) wander into the bar looking for their aunt. The aunt is not to be found, but Sammy (Tom Shelton) and his wife Sybil (Valerie Perri) offer the two young people a room to stay in “until they get settled.”
Noticing that Sammy and Sybil are in the middle of auditioning new dancers, Cloe does an impromptu pole-dance and lands herself a job. And the interest of the bar’s talented musician, Johnny (Brent Schindele).
Several songs and dances later, Cloe and Johnny are lovers and Cloe has become the bar’s hostess and manager. And Sammy has decided to provide a little oomph by initiating an annual Full Moon Festival and a dance contest.
And so it goes. By the second act, Sammy has died and left the bar to Cloe. His wife Sybil has retired to “Boca” and Johnny has gone off to become a rich and famous rock star, but all the rest of the regulars are still there dancing up a storm.
Choreographer Dana Solimando has provided just about every type of dance except ballet. There’s everything from modern dances with “moves” to a smooth tango to acrobatic displays. All fun to watch.
There are love songs, most notably “You and I,” and “Forever on My Mind,” and funny songs: Sybil’s showstopper “You Gotta Have Class,” and “No More Polyester.” There’s also a robust friendship song sung by Sammy and his friend Lou (Harrison White). All sung by actors with particularly fine voices, well directed by music director Michael Borth, who conducts the 13-piece orchestra.
In addition, costume designer Kate Bergh enhances the mood with some weirdly tacky ensembles that are just right for the clientele: mixed plaids and stripes, multi-colored layered tops, tights and boots, high heels and tee shirts and boas, oh my! There’s even a multi-ruffled, puffed-sleeved, hoop-skirted ensemble for one of the girls to wear as a bridesmaid to a wedding. As she rushes around, frantically getting ready, one of the men stops her short with the line, “What’s the matter? Is Tara burning?”
South Street, a truly feel-good musical, will continue at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave., in Pasadena, Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7 through October 16th. Call 626-356-7529 for tickets.