TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Murder, prostitution, war, greed, racism and politics all collide in the New Orleans historic red light district of Storyville in the musical, “The Countess of Storyville,” coming to The University of Alabama’s Marian Gallaway Theatre Feb. 16-20.
The musical is produced by Tony-Award winning commercial producer Margot Astrachan, who is premiering the show at UA as part of its development process on the road to Broadway.
“This an extraordinary opportunity for us as commercial producers to develop a brand-new, original musical with the facilities and personnel of a fine theater department at a great university,” Astrachan said. “My instinct and my experience tell me that we’ll need one more regional theater performance before we go to Broadway.”
Astrachan brought several productions to Broadway before. The musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” the play “The Realistic Joneses” and the musical “Nice Work If You Can Get It” are her most recent Broadway credits.
“The Countess of Storyville” is a historic retelling of the life of a famous madam and the real events of the people of Storyville. The madam, whose name has been changed to Countess Willie Dupree in the musical, is a black woman who became wealthy and successful in New Orleans during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
After spending some time in Paris, Dupree returned to New Orleans and opened Storyville in 1897, a legal red light district. The district was closed by the U.S. Navy in 1917 during World War I.
“She has to contend with the boss of Storyville, Tom Anderson, and she finds herself immersed in the Honduran revolution because at that time with all the foment in Central America, they were running guns and ammunition through these houses – and indeed stored real guns and ammunition in the real countess’s house.”
The musical features several Broadway actors from New York City and Los Angeles as well as 22 local actors composed of UA students, faculty members and Tuscaloosa residents.
Jake Whipple, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, is cast to play a “Razzy Dazzy,” a group of musically talented street urchins.
“There used to be a band way back where these kids made their own instruments, and they performed on the streets,” Jake said. “I’m playing a patchwork guitar.
“I feel pretty good about being in this musical because it’s a pretty big deal to be 13 and be in a big show. I’ve been acting since kindergarten and playing music since before that.”
Bill Teague, professor and chair of the UA department of theatre and dance, is the lighting designer for “The Countess of Storyville.” It’s a rare occurrence for a musical of this caliber to be performed at a college or university, he said.
“Oklahoma has done this before, and I think the University of Michigan has. But this is a pretty rare event to have a major potential Broadway show come to a college campus,” Teague said.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for our students to be working alongside these professional actors who have made their career out of this and these Broadway and off-Broadway producers, directors, choreographers and music directors. Our musical director just came directly here from ‘Wicked,’ so they’ve worked on the biggest shows in New York.”
Astrachan said she was persuaded to bring “The Countess of Storyville” to UA after a conversation she had in New York two years ago with Dr. Robert Olin, dean of UA’s College of Arts & Sciences.
“Originally we spoke about the London Philharmonic because I chair the advisory board of the American Friends of the London Philharmonic, and we were trying to see if we could bring a quartet down, which turned out not to be possible,” she said.
“It may be in future years. In the course of it, I got to know Dean Olin, who I like very much, and he wisely said, ‘you’re a theater producer. We have a great theater department. What can we do to put it on the map?’ I said, ‘develop a big new show so that you’ll get producers down here and you’ll get press. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Tickets for the musical are $14 for students, $17 for senior citizens and UA employees and $20 for adults. They can be purchased at the Rowand-Johnson Hall ticket office, by calling 205/348-3400 or online at UA.tix.com.
Showtimes are at 7:30 p.m. all five days of the musical’s performance. There’s an additional 2 p.m. showing on Feb. 20.
UA’s theatre and dance department became a unified department in 1979. For the past 34 years, the department has produced student and faculty directed, performed and designed work. The department cultivates the next generation of performing arts professionals through comprehensive undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Visit theatre.ua.edu.
Jamon Smith, UA media relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 205/348-4956
Dominic M. Yeager, director of theatre management for UA theatre & dance department, email@example.com, 205/348-3844