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A CurtainUp Review
Call the Children Home
Christiane Noll & Tamara Tunie
Christiane Noll & Tamara Tuni (Photo: ) Marvin Einhorn
Leafing through the Primary Stages prgram brings back memories of many memorable productions. Even the misses among the hits and misses, were always smartly produced and worth seeing. Now the company is back and dipping its toes into risky waters with a brand-new musical a collaboration by the late playwright Thomas Babe and composer-lyricist Mildred Kayden, Call the Children Back merges Babe's play about a young girl searching for the birth mother who had abandoned her become the madam of a bordello in New Orleans and Kayden's work on jazz musicals set in New Orleans.

I'm not familiar with Kayden's previous New Oreans musical, Storyville, but she's certainly got a good sense for the jazz pop-opera style called for by a story set in St. Louis and New Orleans at the time jazz was borne. And while this small theater is . unlikely to become a musical theater venue, director Ken Gash has managed to make the most out of a bare bones staging budget. A balcony that evokes the black iron railings of New Orelans houses not only positions the musicians out of the performers' way, but provides an occasional second-tier playing area. Colorful costumes compensate for the minimalism of the set. To make up for the minimal staging, , and provides an extra it serve the setting with a balcony that evokes the black iron railings of New Orleans buildings. and also provides invovlement with composing her rots the mother who's become a much-on-the-move madame of a house of ill repute and a young man who also arrives in search of -- most recently in the Storyville district of New Orleans by Ron Lasko Due to the economics of producing theater in 2002, the off-Broadway--especially a good one--has become an endangered species. This fact alone makes Call the Children Home, the inaugural production of Primary Stages' 17th season, a worthwhile endeavor. Featuring a book by the late Thomas Babe and music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden, Call the Children Home begins in a brothel in St. Louis in 1912. The Madame, Agnes DuMaurier, is forced to kill a patron in self-defense. The fugitive DuMaurier, now under the moniker of Mary Robards, quickly relocates to the Big Easy with her compatriots in tow. They set up shop within the "17 square blocks of sin" that is New Orleans' Storyville Parish. On her trail is a 17-year-old orphan named Kathleen, who turns out to be the Madame's daughter. Despite being left in an orphanage at birth, Kathleen knows all about her mother, and she wants little more than to be loved and to follow in her mom's stillettoed footsteps. To complicate matters, she also doesn't want her mother to know her true identity. Sadly, librettist Babe died before he could see the premiere of Call the Children Home. This is even more unfortunate because he might have been able to re-write and fix much of the book, which is a bit messy and unfocused. One major problem, of which there are many, is the lack of character development. The cast spends so much time hiding their secrets and true feelings from one another that we never really get to know any one of them enough to forge an emotional connection. This is largely due to the many subplots--a local photographer in love with Kathleen, a piano player who wants to write an opera, a political figure who blackmails the Madame and a mysterious speculator who is oddly fascinated by the brothel--which are given as much time and consideration as DuMaurier and Kathleen's story. The mother and daughter only share two brief scenes alone together. They needed more. Despite the uneven script, there is much to like in Kent Gash's smartly-directed production. Tanya Gibson-Clark's high-energy choreography is particularly effective, especially in a show-stopping Act II duet by the photographer and the piano man. It is also nicely designed, most notably in its two-tiered set, which allows the musicians to fit onto the tiny stage while architecturally evoking New Orleans. And fortunately, Mildred Kayden's jazz infused score is terrific--this talented composer is one to watch. The cast is uniformly blessed with flawless voices and great energy. Particularly noteworthy is Tamara Tunie, who imbues Madame with fiery vitality. Sean McDermott smolders in the role of the speculator, particularly in a rather kinky flagellation scene. And what Christiane Noll lacks in naiveté, she certainly makes up for with her powerful vocals. Even if Call the Children Home is disappointing at times, it's still a diverting evening of musical theater. Let's hope that Primary Stages continues to keep an eye out for more new musicals. Andrew Leynse kicks off his first season as Primary Stages new artistic director with , a new musical by the late Thomas Babe (book) and Mildred Kayden (music and lyrics). Ken Gash directs. The show commenced Sept. 12 and will run through Oct. 13. The world premiere musical is about two youngsters who go searching for their roots in the Storyville district of New Orleans. Christiane Noll, Tamara Tunie and Sean McDermott star. Noll is the star of such shows as Jekyll & Hyde, Little by Little and Ain't Nothin' But the Blues. Thomas Babe, a playwright whose work was a mainstay at the Public Theater in the late '70s and early '80s, died Dec. 6, 2000. Playwright Gurney sees his The Fourth Wall take to the New York stage for the first time at Primary Stages Oct. 30-Dec. 1, 2002. David Saint directs the comedy in which the audience will play the title role while four suburbanites inhabit the other portion of the stage. Primary Stages was founded in 1985. Since its inception, the theatr Leynse assumes the artistic director position previously held by Casey Childs on Sept. 1. Longtime associate Childs will take on the position of executive producer. Call the Children Home is a new musical by the late Thomas Babe and Mildred Kayden. Set in the Storyville district of New Orleans at the start of the 1900s, the show unfolds at the brothel of Madame Mary Robards and involves the willful Kathleen, who is in search of her birth mother, and the brooding Henry, who arrives
Call the Children Home
Book: Thomas Babe
Music & Lyrics: Mildred Kayden Directed by Ken Gash
Cast (in order of appearance): Tamara Tunie (Mary), Eugene Fleming (Professor), Angela Robinson (Pia), Sophia Salguero (Blondie), Julian Gamble (Anderson)), Caesar Samayoa (Papa), Christiane Noll (Kathleen, Sean McDermott (Professor)
Set Design: Emily Beck
Costume Design: Austin K. Sanderson
Lighting Design: William H. Grant
Sound Design: Johnna Doty
Running time: 2 1/2 hours, including one intermission
Primary Stages, 354 W. 45 St. (8/9 Ave.), 212/ 333-4052. web site
Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2:30pm; Sun at 3pm -- $48

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on performance.
Musical Numbers
Act One

  • Overture/ Instrumental
  • Welcome To My World/ Mary
  • (Reprise) Welcome To My World/ Mary
  • Hometown Blues of New Orleans/ Professor
  • No Holdin' Back Professor, Mary, Pia, Blondie
  • Forever Mine/ Papa, Kathleen
  • Catering/ Pla, Blondie, Kathteen
  • Blue Book/ Mary, Pla, Blondie, Papa
  • Harlots / Henry
  • Never Gonna Run Again/ Mary, Professor
  • Crystal Glass/ Henry, Mary
  • Buddy Bolden's Horn/Call The Children Home/ Professor, Pia, Blondie
Act Two

    • Entr'acte/ Professor, Pia, BIondie
    • Cuttin' Out and Crossin' Over / Papa, Professor
    • Do I Need A Man?/ Mary
    • Chilling Stream, Drink / Henry
    • Funeral March / Instrumental
    • The Last to Know/ Pia, BIondie
    • Le Bal de L'Amour/ Company
    • Your Home Within My Life Kathleen, Mary
    • The Game/ Mary, Henry, Professor
    • Finale / Company

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