According to the old pop hit, Philadelphia’s “South Street” is “the hippest street in town … the best street/To have a ball with you.” Not in the tuner of the same name at the Pasadena Playhouse. The fabled thoroughfare circa 1997 is a generic, conflict-free fantasyland characterized by random hugs and unmotivated high spirits. It can’t have been easy to craft a show in which literally nothing happens for 135 minutes, but that’s the singular accomplishment of librettist Craig Carlisle and songwriter Richard Addrisi.
Carlisle in particular is asleep at the switch. The threat of eviction hanging over “Sammy’s Place,” a former firehouse, drives (for lack of a better word) the story (for lack of a better word). But he makes no effort to dramatize what sort of joint it is, or why we should care about its fate.
Instead, we’re asked to instantly accept as a lovable pseudo-family a host of stock, stick figures (jovial sexless bartender; vulgar cougar; repressed nerd; sassy waitress) whose pleasure in each other’s company we lack context to share. Guidos and Guidettes drift in and out, dutifully dropping needless exposition and awful jokes in their wake.
They also sing about their moods: “We’re doing just fine/We have plenty of time.” “Salami and cheese/I think you’ll be pleased.” “Perfect pair/Friggin’ millionaires.” If a theater party made a drinking game of taking a shot whenever Addrisi ponied up a true rhyme, all would leave “South Street” fit to drive.
The new owners wish to build the Boobie Bar and Deli (Hot Girls and Cole Slaw) on the site. Horrors! But as we learn in an achingly long act one flashback to 1980, Sammy’s Place began life as a gentlemen’s club (albeit one with pole dancing as unerotic as Disneyland’s It’s a Small World). The place would just be returning to its roots. This is a crisis? Not to worry, it’s resolved as carelessly as it’s set up.
A hopelessly underbaked romance is shoehorned in, along with talk (and a song) about “looking to the rabbit in the moon.” Also many high fives, and lots of grinning patrons pointing at each other as if to say, “I’m with you, sister; that’s right, my friend.” Space precludes adequate consideration of the mannequin in the easy chair, or the number in which a soubrette announces she has “class/Coming out of my ass…pirations.”
“South Street” is so peculiar, its words so banal and helmer Roger Castellano’s pacing so off, that the experience becomes almost endearing, like the showpiece pageant “Red, White and Blaine” in “Waiting for Guffman.” A strange dissonance is created when everyone up there is trying so hard and with such sincerity, while the material is laying one fragrant egg after another.
Heroine Cloe (Maria Eberline) wraps things up with a by-the-numbers power ballad congratulating herself for overcoming all the struggles we’ve neither seen nor heard about. Eberline, like the rest of the cast, struggles manfully to sell the 80s-pop-inflected songs as if they possessed market value.