The Ballad of Baxter Street

Theater for the New City Crystal Field, Executive Director, presents

The Ballad of Baxter Street

Written and directed by Barbara Kahn Barnes.

Original music by Nicola Barber
French dialogue by Marcel Pautrat
with Stephanie Abbinanti, Jocelyn Adams, Evan Bass, Sansan Fibri, Andi Hogan, Robert Marlowe, Dan McVey, Collette Porteous, Kelsey Robinson, Sean Seibert, Taniya Sen

Assistant director/musical direction by Sean Seibert
Set design by Mark Marcante
Costume Design by Dolores DeCrisanti
Assistant costume design by Paula Lynch
Organ-grinder music arranged and performed by Maeve Shelton

February 24 – March 13, 2005
Thursday – Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm*
*pre-performance party on Feb 27: $25 includes ticket price

Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue @ 10th St NYC
Tickets $10. Res/info: 212-254-1109 or

Partial funding by a grant from the Puffin Foundation Postcard design by Illuminage Art & design

The Ballad of Baxter Street – Historical inspiration for the play

The Ballad of Baxter Street began with my interest in writing a play about the New York appearance of 19th century French actress Rachel Felix, whose extraordinary debut at age seventeen saved the Comedie-Francaise from bankruptcy and closure. Subsequent accolades were always tempered by references to her being Jewish, reflecting the prevailing anti-Semitism in France and elsewhere. (“M’lle. Rachel has, we understand, the pure Jewish love of money.” New-York Daily Times. August 23, 1855.)

An actor in Rachel’s troupe, in his account of their U.S. tour, described going down to Five Points to see that notorious neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. As I researched Five Points, the focus of my play shifted from Rachel to the neighborhood itself. According to the 1855 census, Baxter Street in particular was incredibly diverse, even within the tenement buildings. In the precarious co-existence of people of different nationalities, races, and religions, as well as single women and families, there were always those who were able to bridge the divisions to find love. That reaching out became the basis for The Ballad of Baxter Street.

In my research, I discovered the very active and lively theater scene in Lower Manhattan in 1855. Magicians were popular, as were melodramas and comedies. I interviewed a magic historian, and I read a number of the plays that were onstage during August-September 1855, including the plays that Rachel performed. I looked through the records of the 1991 archaeological dig at Five Points. (Unfortunately, the many artifacts unearthed were stored in the World Trade Center and destroyed on September 11.) I found newspaper accounts of the plight of women in arranged marriages to older men. I had many questions: What would happen to a woman from Five Points who loved the theater and saw it as her escape from prejudice and poverty? What would happen if she and her younger “stepmother” fell in love? Could a bi-racial couple endure the violence their marriage provoked? How can I still include Rachel in this play? Can I recreate a typical performance at a New York theater in 1855? The Ballad of Baxter Street answers these questions. Researching it and writing it combined my various interests-a love of history, a fascination with New York City and its theatrical heritage, and my battles against prejudice and injustice.