By Lynn Venhaus

Originally scheduled for three performances, the Linda Ronstadt tribute show “Just One Look” has been playing for more than a year.

Now 19 performances (and counting) later, the original cabaret will be on stage for a return engagement on Wednesday, May 15, at the Blue Strawberry. Kelly Howe reprises her critically acclaimed performance.

The Midnight Company first mounted the show in March 2023. Creative Director Joe Hanrahan wrote and directed the piece, framed as an interview and career retrospective, with Howe singing Ronstadt’s most iconic songs.

“The response has been absolutely bonkers. People have seen it three and four times. They’re not only sending friends, they’re coming back with friends. And the audiences are consistently great, hooting and hollering. I’ve never really been a part of anything like it. It’s great! I’m having more fun with every show,” she said.

“I love singing these songs. Lucky she has incredible taste in music, so we really couldn’t go wrong in choosing if we tried. She really chose great great songs, as we talk about in the show,” Howe said.

Ronstadt ruled the pop charts and filled stadiums in the 1970s and 1980s. The reigning rock goddess of her era, she later sang Gilbert and Sullivan in “The Pirates of Penzance” on Broadway and the Great American Songbook in collaborations.

Her worldwide album sales totaled more than $50 million, she won 10 Grammy Awards, and received the National Medal of Arts and Humanities, plus was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

Her songbook featured collaborations with some of the biggest names in music, and her personal life included long-term relationships with, among others, California Governor Jerry Brown when he was running for president, and filmmaker George Lucas best known for the “Star Wars” universe.

In “Just One Look,” Hanrahan portrays a veteran rock ’n roll journalist who finally gets to interview his unrequited love, Ronstadt, though she’s now retired to her hometown of Tucson, suffering from Parkinson’s disease. During the course of the show, they remember her debut in Los Angeles, and Howe becomes the younger Linda, recalling her storybook career and singing her great songs.

“Both Kelly and I have a deep appreciation for the great music Linda Ronstadt delivered. Both her rockers and her ballads are among our favorite songs. We aim to remind people who she was, and to honor her work and her life,” Hanrahan said.

Howe recreating a version of Ronstadt’s album “Hasten Down the Wind.”

After Ronstadt’s long success on the pop music charts, she went on to triumphs on Broadway with Gilbert and Sullivan, three albums of the Great American Songbook with Nelson Riddle, Mariachi and lullaby albums, and much more. She had three number 1 hit albums, and 10 albums in the top ten. 

She recorded over 30 albums, and appeared as a guest on 120 albums by other artists – from Philip Glass to a duet with Homer Simpson. There was a number 1 single,  3 number 2s, 10 top ten singles, 21 reaching the top 40, and two number 1 hits on the Country charts. 

Ronstadt’s hits included “Different Drum,” “Blue Bayou,” “Desperado,” “It’s So Easy,” the title song of this show and many more.

“When Joe and I first talked about doing a show like this, we didn’t know at first who it would be about. We both thought of Linda Ronstadt separately. He’s a big fan, and I’ve always been a big fan of hers too. She was still coming out with huge hits when I was a kid. I can’t remember not knowing who she was or wanting to sing like her,” she said.

“In preparation for the show, I really dug into her music more than I had before. She is just incredible. One of the greatest singers of all time. And one of the coolest people too. I love her. I didn’t imagine I’d get to play Linda Ronstadt when I grew up, but I’m sure glad I did! It’s a cool gig, man,” she added.

Howe is an award-winning performer herself. She was nominated twice for Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role, by the St. Louis Theater Circle — for this year’s awards in March for her role as a grieving mom in “See You in a Minute” from Contraband Theatre, and for her role as a factory worker in “Sweat” presented by the Black Rep in 2021.

She has also been in “Tommy” as Mrs. Walker at Stray Dog Theatre and the title character in “Rodney’s Wife” at The Midnight Company, as well as part of two Aphra Behn Festivals from SATE. Kelly earned her BFA in theatre from Stephens College then moved to New York City where she worked as an actor, vocalist, and occasional producer for a decade before coming home to St. Louis. 

The Just One Look Band is led by Music Director/Pianist Curt Landes, who has played with Chuck Berry, Albert King, Glenn Campbell, John Hartford and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and has appeared at numerous national and local music festivals.

Tom Maloney is on guitar and bass. He was the music director for an international Johnnie Johnson tour. He’s played with everybody from Jerry Vale to Homesick James, and co-wrote and produced Jeremiah Johnson’s #1 song on the Billboard Blues Chart, HiFi Drive. 

And Mark Rogers will handle percussion and provide backup vocals. Mark co-founded many local bands, including Street Corner Symphony, Walnut Park Athletic Club and The Heaters.  He proudly claims that he’s used the same drum set since 1968, and and the same milk can as a drum stool since 1973.

Kelly Howe as Mrs. Walker in “Tommy” at Stray Dog Theatre in 2019.

This partnering with Blue Strawberry wasn’t the only collaboration that Midnight has mounted several over the past year.

“Jim Dolan of The Blue Strawberry and I have discussed incorporating a theatrical element into classic cabaret, and with the Linda Ronstadt show, we’re aiming to create that,:” Hanrahan said last March.

“Blue Strawberry is excited to be working with Joe Hanrahan and Midnight to present this show. As a longtime fan of Joe and Midnight’s work, we are honored to be a part of this production,” Dolan said.

The Midnight Company’s performance of “Just One Look” takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, at The Blue Strawberry, 356 N. Boyle. For more information, visit: bluestrawberrystl.com

“Rodney’s Wife” at The Midnight Company in 2022.

Take Ten Questionnaire With Kelly Howe

1.What is special about your latest project?
Well, my current project “Just One Look: A Tribute to Linda Rondstadt” has been running for more than a year. It was originally scheduled for three performances, 18 sold out performances and a quick stint at City Winery later, we’re still going. So, I’d say it’s definitely special. It’s certainly fun.

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
I’m not sure I’d call it a choice. Since the first time I was on stage as a kid, there wasn’t really any other option. It’s kind of
just part of who I am.

3. How would your friends describe you?
This is funny, I don’t know! Nice like, kind of funny, good in the kitchen, Beatles obsessed…that basically sums me up lol.

4. How do you like to spend your spare time?
I like to see plays! Lucky this town is lousy with them! I also love to travel. Anywhere and everywhere. Wish I could do it
more.

5. What is your current obsession?
I just finished watching “Ripley” on Netflix. It was very well done, very compelling. But most of all beautiful to look at. A
trip to Italy has been on my list for a while, but the show has made it more a priority. My current obsession is figuring out
when and how I can get my old man and me to Italy. Itinerary TBD.

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I hate mayonnaise, ketchup and yellow mustard. Pickles too. I’m basically anti-condiment.

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
I was in the St. Louis Children’s Choir as a kid. When I was in the 8th grade we went on a trip to Russia, Czechoslovakia (it
was called at the time), and Austria. It was amazing. I think being exposed to such different cultures at such an early age
really defined who I am in many ways. Travel is the best education there is, in my opinion.

8. Who do you admire most?
Hmmm, I am filled with admiration for a lot of folks about town…I’d have to say my parents though, and my husband. Two I
was lucky enough to be born to, one I chose. They are definitely the people I aspire to be most like.

9. What is at the top of your bucket list?
I have a long list of places I still have to see. My bucket list is populated with travel destinations. Plenty of roles I’d like to
play too, too many to list.

10. How were you affected by the pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through and any lesson learned during the isolation periods? Any reflections on how the arts were affected? And what it means to move forward?
Man, this is a lot. I was tending bar before the pandemic started, I will never forget the night I closed the bar when everything shut down. So crazy. Jack Patrick’s survived the pandemic and is still one of the best spots in town! But I didn’t feel comfortable continuing that work in the pandemic, I’m a bit compromised. I did not like the isolation though! It was very difficult. I spent most of it tutoring a 10 year old…tutoring is generous, I was more like her school chum as she was isolated and doing online learning. She is very smart and needed little help, but the time spent with her was a great gift. We read a lot. It was definitely helpful to be around such positivity and optimism, the optimism and wonder of a 10 year old was good medicine when all else seemed lost.

It felt like theatre was over. Zoom plays and the like were happening, but of course nothing compares to live in-person performance, and when we were in it, it felt like that was gone forever. What I’ve learned working on some early post-pandemic productions, and how the community has fought back since is that theatre, art and artists are resilient. We can creatively adapt and move forward, because if you make art, if you make theatre, there’s really no other choice in the matter. Life is so much less beautiful without it. So we must keep on
keepin’ on.

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
Man, I love St. Louis. It’s hard to choose a favorite thing. There is endless theatre to see. The food scene is top notch. There are the baseball Cardinals! STL City, The Blues. If you’re hip to the goings on in town, it’s hard to be bored.

12.What’s next?
“Old Times” with The Midnight Company. A Pinter play! I’m really excited for this one. Sarah Holt is directing. Joe Hanrahan, Colleen Backer, and myself will appear. I’m really excited to work with Sarah and Colleen. I know I love working with Hanrahan. July 11 – 27.

More Information On Kelly Howe:

Birthplace: Centralia, IL
Current location: South St. Louis City
Family: me and my old man, Kyle
Education: BFA in theatre from Stephens College
Day job: Swade Cannabis Dispensary (drug dealer)
First job: St. Louis Bread Company, one of the first!
First play or movie you were involved in or made:
Peace Child The Musical at Stages. Pretty much sealed the deal for me.
Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? I was lucky enough to perform SWEAT for Lynn Nottage with The Black
Rep. We were a part of The William Inge Festival that honored Lynn Nottage that year. Hard to beat that one.
Dream job/opportunity: Man, I just wanna keep getting hired for stuff. I’m not so picky. Ha.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Lots of nominations, no awards. Yet.
Favorite quote/words to live by: All you need is love!
A song that makes you happy: Yikes, so many. Beyoncé’s cover of “Blackbird” has so far made me cry every time I’ve
heard it. Happy tears from the beauty and weight of it.

Linda Ronstadt
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