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Theater review: 'South Street' at the Pasadena Playhouse

September 28, 2011 |  3:00 pm

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Philadelphia's famed tourist district is the setting of "South Street," the new musical by Richard Addrisi and Craig Carlisle at the Pasadena Playhouse.  Alas, it might as well be Sesame Street.

Things begin promisingly, music director Michael Borth's crack orchestra blazing away as designer Andy Walmsley's downtown storefronts become an impressive forced-perspective tavern.  The chorally rich ensemble launches "Are We Set for Tonight," and it's Sammy's Place, circa 1997, with the Full Moon Festival imminent.

Ostensible protagonist Cloe (Maria Eberline), single mother of Crystal (Cassie Silva), prepares to relinquish the joint to thugs Tony and Rico (Jim Holdridge and Benjamin Goldsmith), over the markers that Sammy (Tom Shelton) left behind. Enter Sybil (Valerie Perri), Sammy's widow; jocular Lou (Harrison White) and Dacron-clad Arnie (Ezra Buzzington), his cronies; gangly Norton (Matthew Patrick Davis), Cloe's brother; perpetual bridesmaid Lydia (Lowe Taylor).

Flash back to 1980, the former firehouse here a strip club, and homeless Cloe and young Norton (Andy Scott Harris) decamp. With Sybil's pole-dance instruction, "Ya Gotta Have Class," musical theater purgatory is nigh.

Carlisle's plasticine libretto zigzags from sub-sitcom yuks -- a stuffed facsimile of Sammy called "The Sammy-Quin" -- to soapy clich√© -- Cloe's youthful romance with bar pianist Johnny (Brent Schindele) -- without remotely making us care.

Composer-lyricist Addrisi, famed for "Never My Love," writes with Top 40 brevity and scant show-music structure. Tunes, though pleasant, are generic, despite Don Sebesky's typically lush orchestrations, the lyrics all false rhymes and gooey homilies, particularly "Look to the Rabbit," a jaw-dropping paean to the bunny in the moon and/or bar clock. Yes, you read that right.

Director Roger Castellano, gallantly professional, does what he can, his proficient cast heroic in the songs and choreographer Dana Solimando's dual-era dances. Eberline, Schindele and Perri gamely belt out pseudo-anthems; the criminally underused Taylor makes her "How About Me" a highlight; Silva, though over-chirpy, devours "Cool Dad"; and so forth. Sadly, the variety-show sound and arthritically lame narrative are beyond repair. Pray that the City of Brotherly Love doesn't sue for defamation of musical character.

-- David C. Nichols

"South Street," Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 16. $39-$100. (626) 356-7529 or www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org/. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Photo: The cast of "South Street." Credit: Michael Lamont

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