Festival of New American Theatre: Let the Good Times Roll: A New Orleans Gumbo

Festival of New American Theatre

Let the Good Times Roll: A New Orleans Gumbo

The Phoenix Theatre Company, Phoenix, AZ, January 14, 2023

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards

There are so many positive things to say about this show that I am at a loss as to where to start. I interviewed Festival Director Michelle Chin about the process Phoenix Theatre Company (PTC) used for choosing works for the Festival. Along with plays, choreography, and specialty workshops, there are two musicals and two Composer/Lyricist Cabarets on the schedule. Let the Good Times Roll: A New Orleans Gumbo was written and conceived by Jack Viertel, and it had been previously workshopped Off Broadway. Producer Michael Kruke knew that the creators wanted to revamp it, and he reached out to PTC producing artistic director Michael Barnard who thought it would be a good match for the Festival. The word “gumbo” conjures up the taste of Creole or Cajun stew—rich, spicy, and every bit New Orleans. Let the Good Times Roll “rolls” through a lot of great music; most of it was unfamiliar to me, but it’s rich in melody and lyrics that are mostly rollicking and fun. The program listed 37 composers and/or lyricists credited with the songs, ranging from Jelly Roll Morton to Harry Connick, Jr.

Good Times features six quirky, diverse characters and centers on a New Orleans bar owned by Trixie (perfectly portrayed by Tyra Yvette) and managed by Big Chief (superb baritone D. Scott Withers), her on-again off-again lover. Bar patrons included Wanda (the talented Gina Guarino), Jerry Lee (Roosevelt Tre Moore), and Hannah Brown (Desmond Woodward). Yvette moved between several characters male and female, real and imaginary, with ease. After a rousing beginning, Big Chief says, “Our story—which isn’t really a story—begins.” Finally, we meet Liza Jane (Carmina Monserrat), a broken-hearted girl who comes to New Orleans to find love again.

Jack Viertel

Every actor was vocally right for the score. Director Sara Edwards (who has many national credits including Harmony currently on Broadway) found a way to create movement and even some dancing around six music stands and on the small stage. The narrator, Savannah Inez, was seated on stage left in front of the sign-language interpreters (who were totally into the show) and added color and character as she gave us stage directions and scenic descriptions.

The band, led by music director Geno Young on piano, included Paulo Finateri, Terry “LT” Green, and Wallace Steele. They evoked the musicians of New Orleans that one hears daily on Bourbon Street.  One must give credit as well to music arranger and supervisor Sonny Paladino.

The press release says the show “takes audiences on a ride through history, hardship, and ultimate triumph that is the hallmark” of New Orleans. I think the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau should produce the show for Broadway as a postcard to the Big Easy. It made me want to go back.

I saw three shows in three days this weekend, and I’m happy to say fate saved the best for Sunday. It was the second of only two readings, but hopefully the producers got what they needed from the audience talkbacks and surveys we were encouraged to complete. I would love to see the show fully staged by PTC in the near future. I would keep every cast member if they were available. Each singer/actor found a way to make their character(s) come alive. Their musicianship allowed for both solo and harmonic singing, and somehow they found chemistry with each other; that’s not easy in a reading.  Bravo!

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.