By Lynn Venhaus
Love has got everything to do with it. The costumes are gorgeous, the musicianship splendid and the legendary subjects all deserving of the spotlight in the reverent play with music, “St. Louis Woman.”
Local playwright Joe Hanrahan, Midnight Company’s founder and artistic director, has a deep knowledge and interest in local history as well as an affinity for and expertise in popular music.
In this enjoyable, affectionate showcase brimming with good beats and striking visuals, Hanrahan honors local legacies by presenting their impact on the world through an earnest young singer, Laka.
Laka is a relative newcomer on the local music scene, having performed her first cabaret at the Blue Strawberry in April 2020, and she does not have any experience regional theater.
This work is her stage debut – and it appears that her collaboration with Hanrahan took them both to their happy place. She is a likable performer, projecting perseverance and positivity, even if she is acting novice with more to learn.
Laka embodies their important traits of dedication and resolve as Hanrahan, also the director, unfolds snapshots of Josephine Baker, Tina Turner, Katherine Dunham, Maya Angelou, Fontella Bass, Ann Peebles, and Willie Mae Ford Smith.
The women are all artists with some connection to St. Louis, whether they were born here, grew up here or moved her during their adult years. You might not have heard of everyone but by the end of the show, they will all be memorable.
Hanrahan reveals interesting tidbits about their lives while Laka tells their story in looks, voice and career/life observances. Each woman could be celebrated in their own show, but this ties them intrinsically together, in small-batch narratives.
Hanrahan knows how to mine key details from his copious research to make the script flow. It’s well-constructed with moments big and small.
“They brought this city to the world with their music, dance and poetry,” he said.
The accompanying music, with cool cats Corey Patterson on keyboards and Gabe Bonfili on percussion, had a fun vibe. They excelled at keeping the tempo upbeat and the mood pleasant – nice, easy and kicked up a notch. Bruce Bramoweth’s contributions as a music consultant helped set the piece, too.
Enhancing the show immeasurably is Liz Henning’s stunning costume designs – she captured each period and personality perfectly. The red-sequined mini-cocktail dress Laka rocked as Tina was a wow!
An accomplished video designer, Michael Musgrave-Perkins has done exceptional work with archival footage and vintage documents to convey time periods for each woman, setting us in a ‘you are there’ format. The selections are first-rate and the presentation polished.
Ashley L. Tate has executed appropriate choreography, particularly the iconic Banana Dance by Josephine Baker, and Tina Turner’s vivacious gyrations.
Lighting Designer Tony Anselmo and Production Designer Kevin Bowman helped create the look that set the mood and the groove.
Straightforward and sincere, “St. Louis Woman” raises the voices of some remarkable women, leading lights once rolling on the river. It’s a remembrance to savor, a pride to share and world-class names forever linked to our city’s tapestry.
The Midnight Company presents “St. Louis Woman” Oct. 6-22, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. (Oct. 9 and 16) at the .Zack Theatre, 3224 Locust in the Grand Center Arts District. For more information, visit www. midnightcompany.com.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.