A Harlem Story

A new musical. <C> Copyright 2012.

(As yet unperformed).

Book by Jackie Skarvellis. Songs by Earl Okin.

Lyrics by Earl Okin & Jackie Skarvellis.

Except those marked * where the lyric is by Earl Okin alone. 

Check out Earl Okin’s MEDIA SAMPLES page to hear demos of two songs from the musical.


This is a sequel to Porgy & Bess, but, apart from the names of those two characters, nothing is taken directly from the original novel or folk-opera.

Twenty one years after the events of the original story, Porgy having followed Bess to New York City and Bess having given birth to their son, Josh, she decides she doesn’t want either of them in her life at that time and packs them off back to Charleston.

The musical begins with Josh, now a feisty young man of twenty, feels trapped with his father in a backwater and, having a picture of his mother as a young woman with the words ‘Paradise Row’ on the back of it, decides to get a ride on a freight train going North to seek her out in the big city, much to the dismay of his father.

While they talk things over, they are interrupted by a nasty piece of work called Rev. Crow, a Bible thumping hellfire preacher, who insults and curses them.

Despite his father’s advice, Josh goes up to New York City. Up in Harlem, he finds Paradise Row, which turns out to be a night-club cum brothel. There he meets the amoral Good-Time Guy and manages to get a job, so that he can get to know his mother. When he meets her, (now known as Red Mama), he can hardly believe what she looks like. As for Bess herself, when he confronts her with who he is, she is at first in denial.

Meanwhile, Paradise Row throws out a skinny girl called Rose, a cocaine addict etc., who is too much even for THEM to have around. Needless to say, she is the girl that Josh falls for.

Josh gets to know more about Paradise Row and its evil owner, Big Papa and, while gradually persuading Bess that he really is her son, plots with Rose to take revenge on Big Papa by stealing stuff from him and quitting.

However, Big Papa himself arrives and catches them in the act. In the fight that ensues, Josh, who has boxing skills, knocks Big Papa down. As he falls, Big Papa cracks his head hard and dies. Knowing of Big Papa’s connection with the more corrupt side of New York police, Josh and Rose know they have to get out of town immediately.

Bess, now convinced that Josh is her son and that Porgy still loves her, goes with them, back on another freight train.

They manage to get back to Porgy’s home in Charleston and the two couple spend an idyllic evening together. However, the Rev. Crow has seen them and given their whereabouts to the police. Dawn finds the house surrounded and in the ensuing confrontation Bess gets in the way of a bullet intended for Josh and dies in Porgy’s arms.

Josh is arrested.

This leaves Porgy and Rose together. Rose is pregnant with Josh’s child and, the first time she’s had any family, vows to stay, look after Porgy. Together, they will await Josh’s return and meanwhile bring up his child.


PORGY. Middle-aged gambler, unable to work.

BESS (RED MAMA). Slightly younger, currently ‘madam’ in Paradise Row.

JOSH. Young man of 20. Their son.

ROSE. Young, thin woman. Addict. Waif. Terrible life-story. No family.

GOOD TIME GUY. Youngish amoral pimp who works for Big Papa.

BIG PAPA. Huge evil man, around 40yo maybe, who owns Paradise Row.

REV. CROW. Bible thumping hellfire preacher. Nasty piece of work.

Dancing girls, police.


Act 1


20 year old Josh wishing he weren’t stuck in Charleston, but should jump a train and look for his ma in New York City.


The evil Rev. Crow’s Hellfire song, tells how he seeks out sinners. Only through him can they be saved.


Porgy confronts his son Josh with the rumour that he’s going to desert him, just as Bess did over 20 years ago.

(4) UPTOWN. *

Girls who work at Paradise Row Club, have some fun singing and dancing before clients arrive.


Pimp, Good Time Guy, sings about what’s on offer at Paradise Row, if you can pay…


Porgy finds his ma working at Paradise Row. He’s horrified by what he sees. Can this be the same person on the 20 year old picture he has?


Bess is equally unsure if this might be the son she’s put out of her mind for all these years…or is this just some conspiracy?


Evil Big Papa, the owner of the nightclub/brothel describes who he is and what he stands for.


Rose, a waif, thrown out of Paradise Row, sings of her life, never wanted by anyone.


Josh, who has fallen for Rose, tries to persuade her to come back to Charleston with him. (also a soft-shoe style duet dance).


Josh and Rose’s love song. Neither can believe that they’ve found one another like this.

(12) WAY BACK HOME. *.

Duet. Josh tries to persuade his ma, Bess, that Porgy still loves her and that she should return to Charleston. She expresses her doubts.

Act 2.

(13) MY LORD. *.

Porgy, warned via telegram of Bess’s return, thanks his God for sending her back.


Big Papa having been accidentally killed by Josh, Rose and Bess are on the run from the police with their dogs. They prepare to jump on a train.


For one special night, both older and younger couples are together in Charleston and here express their love.


Betrayed to the police by Rev. Crow, Bess gets in the way of a bullet aimed at her son and dies in Porgy’s arms.

(17) I GOT A HOME.

With Bess dead, Josh arrested and Rose pregnant with Josh’s child, Rose tells Porgy that she’s staying with him and looking after him. They will bring up Josh’s son, wait for Josh’s return together…and be a family! A hint of optimism after tragedy.

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