In 1917, Storyville was where Louis Armstrong, Ma Rainey, and Jelly Roll Morton were busy creating an art form known as American jazz. That site was also the red light district of New Orleans, which meant there was plenty of gambling, along with raucous saloons and brothels. It was in a bubbling cauldron of improvisational musical genius, mixed with human vice and excess, that the great indigenous American sounds of jazz were born.
Now, Storyville, a new San Diego Repertory Theatre version of the previously produced musical show, is playing at the Lyceum Theatre in downtown San Diego. The force of this sizzling production is quite an experience, and it’s been brought to life and freshened by director Ken Page (who wrote the book for the film To Sir With Love, and performed on Broadway in major shows and in films such as Dreamgirls), incorporating extensive revisions of the original book and new production concepts. The show opens with a street parade down the aisles of the Lyceum, and reaches a climax in the setting of the infamous Basin Street Railway Station. There’s a rousing good tale told along the way and it’s based on true events in American history. Twenty-one singers and dancers perform to the accompaniment of a live seven-piece band. The jazz trumpet reigns. For great music and a look at a pivotal time in American cultural history, spend an evening in Storyville. But hurry — it runs through December 12. (619/544-1000, www.sdrep.org) DARLENE G. DAVIES