Joe Hanrahan writes and produces and performs some of the best plays around here. Not only is it good writing, it’s good theatre, and it’s good material, with its own twist on something that might start out looking familiar.
But his Midnight Company’s current production is not so much a play as it is a cabaret performance. He calls it St. Louis Woman, and that’s what it is, song and stories by and about St. Louis women. He researched the familiar and the less familiar about them to form the informative material about the women and their songs. They are told and sung by LAKA, a terrific young singer, storyteller and dancer. Hanrahan directed it. Music director and keyboard player Corey Patterson and percussionist Gabe Bonfili accompany the songs and sometimes the stories. Choreographer Ashley L. Tate guided LAKA through the changing dance styles of the twentieth century. Michael Musgrave-Perkins’ video design moves scenes of St. Louis through the years with iconographic images of the women and their colleagues. Liz Henning’s costumes we recognize for each of the women. Tony Anselmo designed lighting, Kevin Bowman designed the production, Philip Evans consulted on the audio and Bruce Bramoweth on the music.
Our chronological journey with St. Louis women begins with the twentieth century and Frankie Baker, the Frankie of Frankie and Johnny and the song that told the world about a St. Louis woman. Frankie was soon followed by W.C. Handy’s St. Louis woman, who gives her rivals the St. Louis blues, stealing their man. Next LAKA becomes a singer who was quite different from those two. Willie Mae Ford Smith became the most influential Gospel singer in the country and made St. Louis the home of Gospel music.
LAKA spends some time with Freda Josephine McDonald, from Frankie and Johnny’s neighborhood, known to the world as Josephine Baker, star of Paris’s nightclubs and theatres, hero of France’s World War II Resistance and of the American Civil Rights Movement.
After intermission it’s time for rock ’n’ roll and Tina Turner, Fontella Bass, and Ann Peebles. And a dancer, Katherine Dunham, born in Chicago, student of the dances of the Caribbean Islands, innovator of American dance, famed teacher in Edwardsville and East St. Louis. And another civil rights activist, and dancer, and actor, and especially a writer, native St. Louisan Maya Angelou.
Joe Hanrahan’s script challenged LAKA with each and all of these St. Louis women. She met the challenges with style and grace, and with an admiration and respect for each of them that she shared with each of us, to our great pleasure in a richly satisfying evening.
Photo by Joey Rumpell