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.

Laka. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

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.

The Midnight Company will present the World Premiere of ST. LOUIS WOMAN, a play with music starring LAKA, written and directed by Midnight’s Artistic Director, Joe Hanrahan.  ST. LOUIS WOMAN will run October 6 – 22 at the .ZACK theatre, with performances Thursdays/Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sunday matinees October 9 and 16 at 2pm.  Tickets are $30 for Fridays/Saturdays and Sundays, and $20 for Thursdays, and tickets are on sale now at MetroTix.com.

 ST. LOUIS WOMAN will honor the enduring legacy of some of the amazing women in St. Louis who brought this city to the world with their timeless music, dance and poetry.  LAKA will portray such legendary artists as Josephine Baker, Tina Turner and Katherine Dunham (and present the poetry of Maya Angelou, the song stylings of chart-toppers Fontella Bass and Ann Peebles, and the Gospel classics of the legendary Willie Mae Ford Smith.)  These women were born in St. Louis, or came here when young (typically to join Gospel choirs), or, in Dunham’s case, moved here during the height of their careers to continue their momentous work.

LAKA is a singer-songwriter who prides herself in performing a multitude of genres. She recently released her third single, a country-folk song titled “Keep it to Myself”, written by Mike Lipel. LAKA debuted her first cabaret show at the Blue Strawberry in October of 2020 titled “The Music in Me”, her life story through music and went on to perform the show earlier this year in New York City at the venue, Don’t Tell Mama. She noticed that the life stories she told in between songs connected her audience more to the songs. Laka continued to branch out this year with appearances in Las Vegas, Naples, FLA, and Nashville.

 The Midnight Company is celebrating its 25th Anniversary producing theatre in St. Louis, presenting a full season of plays in 2022 after receiving 14 nominations from the recent St. Louis Theatre Critics Circle Awards, winning four.   This year, Midnight presented ANOMALOUS EXPERIENCE in May, and RODNEY’S WIFE in July, with ST. LOUIS WOMAN rounding out this season.  But this Fall, Midnight’s work can also be seen at…

LAKA as TIna Turner. Photo by Todd Davis


 ST. LOUIS THEATRE SHOWCASE  Friday/Saturday September 16 & 17 at the Public Media Commons, 3653 Olive St.  Each night, beginning at 7pm, five different St. Louis theatre companies will present a short play or piece of theatre.  Midnight will be in the Saturday night lineup, presenting a new play by Joe Hanrahan – LAST CALL, directed by Sarah Holt, performed by Tom Kopp and Joe Hanrahan.  The event is FREE, and you can register to attend at KWMU.org.  Local craft beverages will be available.

And…TRUE Community Theatre’s SHORTS FESTIVAL, new plays by local playwrights about Truth, Lies, and Confessions.  Friday/Saturday November 4 and 5, it will be presented at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Avenue at 7pm  Tickets can be purchased with a donation, and can be reserved at EventBrite.com.  Midnight will be offering another Hanrahan script, PATIENT #47, directed by David Wassilak (David is appearing in Albion Theatre’s HEROES, opening September 23), featuring Alia Arif and Hanrahan.

THE COLLABORATORS:  
THE BAND  Backing up LAKA will be two of her favorite musicians.  Corey Patterson on keyboards (Corey is the Music Director for the show) and Gabe Bonfii on percussion.
Bruce Bramoweth is our Music Consultant.  Bruce has a show every Sunday night on KDHX – “Chicken Shack,” a mix of blues and jazz and r&b and much more.
CHOREOGRAPHY by Ashley Tate.  Ashley has been the Artistic Director for the Ashleyliane Dance Company, which is celebrating its 15th year of Dance.  She recently accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Dance at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, but not before working with LAKA for ST. LOUIS WOMAN, and working with Joan Lipkin on DANCE THE VOTE, September 24, 12:30pm at Missouri History Museum.  Ashley promises to be back in St. Louis as often as she can.
COSTUME DESIGN/STAGE MANAGEMENT by Liz Henning.  Liz has worked with Midnight on numerous shows, and last year was nominated for Outstanding Costume Design from the St. Louis Theatre Critics Circle for TINSEL TOWN.
VIDEO DESIGN by Michael Musgrave-Perkins.  Michael has provided video design for several Midnight shows, including TINSEL TOWN, A MODEL FOR MATISSE, JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG and LITTLE THING BIG THING.
LIGHTING DESIGN by Tony Anselmo and PRODUCTION DESIGN from Kevin Bowman, both who have provided outstanding work for previous Midnight shows.

THE PLAYWRIGHT/DIRECTOR: Joe Hanrahan is Midnight’s Artistic Director, and for them, he’s written LIFE AFTER DEATH, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE JAMES, DRACULA  (adaptation), THE EVEREST GAME, MY VIOLIN MY VOICE, NOW PLAYING THIRD BASE FOR THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS…BOND, JAMES BOND (nominated Outstanding New Play St. Louis Theatre Critic Circle 2021), TINSEL TOWN (Winner Outstanding New Play by the Circle, 2021), and several shorter plays for The Crawl.   His scripts have also been performed in Kansas, Brooklyn, NY, and in St. Louis.  As a director, he’s directed several Midnight shows, and filled the same role for The Black Rep (THE BROWNSVILLE RAID and NO CHILD), SATE (CUDDLES), R-S Theatrics (THE FLICK), Clayton Community Theatre (A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, Winner Outstanding Director, Arts for Life), and Webster Groves Theatre Guild (BUS STOP and THE UNDERPANTS.)  He most recently directed RODNEY’S WIFE for Midnight.

Laka as Josephine Baker. Photo by Todd Davis

Hanrahan said “When I first heard LAKA sing, I was amazed.  One of the best voices I’d ever heard, she could sing literally anything, and anything she sang moved me.  When we met, she was interested in expanding the range of her talents, maybe doing something more theatrical.  So the concept for ST. LOUIS WOMAN was born.  And as I’ve gotten to know her, her intelligence, determination and work ethic has helped carve the path for this show.  This is a unique opportunity to present some of the great art and tremendous people who carved out their exceptional careers in St. Louis.”

And LAKA said, “After seeing one of Joe Hanrahan’s one-man plays, I thought how neat it is for one person to be able to captivate an audience with acting alone. Because of my cabaret shows, I thought I could learn from him to be better at what I do.  When Joe introduced the idea behind St. Louis Woman I was immediately drawn to it. St. Louis has a rich music history, being an epicenter during the height of jazz, blues, and rock’n roll.  I think we sometimes forget the prominence that our beautiful city once held and how many greats called this area home. During the preparation for this play, I’ve become ever more connected to these artists and this city that I call home. Their stories are inspiring, motivating, and courageous. I’m honored and humbled to pay tribute and increase awareness of these women’s role in St. Louis history. The current arts scene in the city is continuing to resurge and remembering the past will certainly help forge our future.”

Midnight is cross-promoting with several like-minded organizations, and hopes to spread the word about their upcoming events:
MISSOURI GOSPEL HALL OF FAME  Go to mogospel.com to find out more about their work preserving and enlightening a new wave of Gospel Music.
CONSUMING KINETICS DANCE COMPANY  Go to ckdc.org and learn about their shows and classes.  On Oct 22 and 23, at the Marcelle Theatre, they will present “French Connection,” original dances celebrating the legacy of Josephine Baker (a principal character in ST. LOUIS WOMAN.)
MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM  Go to mohistory.org for information about their continuing exhibit “ST. LOUIS SOUND,” with pictures, film and audio exploring the deep roots of popular music in the city.
JAZZ ST. LOUIS  Go to jazzstl.org and learn about the full array of performers they have coming up in the months ahead, including several shows from the incomparable Regina Carter in September.
CINEMA ST. LOUIS Go to cinemastlouis.org for their variety of always fascinating programs.  Last month they allowed Midnight to promote ST. LOUIS WOMAN during their showing of Josephine Baker’s first silent film “Siren Of The Tropics,” which was shown as part of their French Film Festival.
And, of course, ASHLEY LIANE DANCE COMPANY.  Go to ashleyliane.com, and follow the group’s shows and events.
More at midnightcompany.com
and lakasoul.com

photos by Todd Davis
video by Keyaira Harris

By Lynn Venhau

The truth is out there, “The X Files” told us during 11 seasons on television. For believers of any paranormal or extra-terrestrial phenomena, some sort of proof helps build a convincing case. “Anomalous Experience” earnestly scratches the surface but is only a piece of an ever-evolving puzzle for truth-seekers.

Inspired by true events, Joe Hanrahan’s original play is a serious-minded drama taking a clinical approach as a public lecture by a psychiatrist who has endured ridicule about his studies into alien abductions and features two patients sharing their experiences.

The Midnight Company’s world premiere production opens its 25th season and runs at the .Zack May 5 – 21.

A key component of science fiction during the last half of the 20th century – the so-called ‘Atomic Age’ — has been stories centered on aliens, whether Unidentified Flying Objects, abductions, or exploratory visits from extra-terrestrials.

But now, with the government acknowledging UFOs and recent sightings of unknown aircraft by military pilots, which are being investigated (even if Area 51 folklore remains shrouded in mystery), tales this century are more accepted and not viewed as merely the rantings of kooks.

However, a heavy dose of skepticism exists about alien abductions. That’s the focus of actor-playwright Hanrahan, who based his character on a real professor who forged ahead in his research despite the nay-sayers.

Joe Hanrahan. Photo by Joey Rumpell

Hanrahan won a St. Louis Theater Circle Award in March for his original play “Tinsel Town,” which is three showbiz vignettes taking place over a 24-hour period in Los Angeles, presented in 2021, and was nominated for his nostalgic one-man show “Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals…Bond…James Bond.”  This is a different direction, and he has meticulously researched the subject to present it in a matter of fact, not preachy or fearful, way.

The sobering material touches on such familiar cases as Roswell, N.M., and goes back to ancient times (Chariots of the Gods) through production designer Kevin Bowman’s impressive slide show.

Given Midnight’s penchant for small character studies, the show is simply yet effectively staged, with Kevin Bowman’s minimal set.

Director Morgan Maul-Smith strips it down to maintain an air of gravitas through the actors – Hanrahan as James Collins and Joseph Garner and Payton Gillam as the two patients Scott and Virginia who believe they were abducted by aliens.

Anxious and apprehensive about their reception, but steadfast in their beliefs that something profound happened to them, Virginia and Scott share their harrowing experiences and re-enact hypnotic regression in a natural progression. 

Photo by Joey Rumpell

Both performers are engaging in conversations with Hanrahan, and Garner looks directly at the audience with his compelling experience. He is particularly haunting in his graphic descriptions of a breeding incident, and his struggles to cope with what has taken place. Gillam is effective in her recount of how her life changed, including her marriage.

That eerie uncertainty is carried through Ellie Schwetye’s masterful sound design and Tony Anselmo’s lighting design.

After their recount, it’s anti-climactic when the 80-minute play ends, because we don’t go farther in their lives. It would be interesting to see how their lives changed in the years since their encounters, if they felt they were being observed or studied.

This uncommon tale benefits from the strong actors, but the play is more sensible than sensational – just in case you were looking for escalating melodrama and shifting behaviors. As we’ve become accustomed to in fictional narratives on aliens, this is just the beginning.

“Anomalous Experience” is a thought-provoking look into unexplained abnormal events that make for a modern ghost story, although light on thrills and chills.

Photo by Joey Rumpell

The Midnight Company presents “Anomalous Experience” May 5 – 21, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., although the final show is Saturday, May 21 at 8 p.m., at the .Zack, 3224 Locust in the Grand Center Arts District of St. Louis. For tickets, visit www.metrotix.com. For more information, visit www.midnightcompany.com

The .Zack is a Kranzberg Arts Foundation space. Follow the COVID-19 guidelines currently in place. Masks are currently optional for patrons.

By Lynn Venhaus

1964 was a memorable year for Americans. Still reeling from President Kennedy’s assassination, an escalating war in Vietnam and civil rights struggles, the U.S. was on the cusp of enormous change.

For teenage St. Louisans like Joe Hanrahan, it was an eventful time, especially that summer. The four lads from Liverpool rocked their world and they were ecstatic about the big bang of the British Invasion. The hometown Cards would make a mad dash for the pennant and face the Yankees in the World Series. And the coolest of the cool, Sean Connery as super-spy 007, was back on the big screen.

Hanrahan, a gifted storyteller, weaves his boyhood obsessions about baseball, The Beatles and James Bond into an entertaining and heartfelt amalgamation he wrote, titled “Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals…Bond, James Bond.”

His memory play, presented by The Midnight Company, will evoke a sense of being there. Vividly capturing a moment in time, you can visualize a dusty ballfield, neighborhood buddies and their equal passions for rooting for the hometown team and going to the movies.

These are the quintessential boys of summer. Joe, who played baseball in four different leagues, recalls his carefree days playing pick-up ball with his pals and nights selling soda and popcorn at Sportsman’s Park..

Hanrahan, who has performed his share of quirky one-man shows over the past decade, walks down a memory lane that other generations can relate to – not just Baby Boomers. He originally wrote the show for the 2018 St. Louis Fringe Festival, and then expanded it beyond that festival’s one-hour time limit for this new presentation.

It is one of his most accessible works, and he’s completely at home on the intimate stage at The Chapel.

He draws us in by creating a specific sense of place, and how what was happening socially, politically and athletically affected these kids growing up in the city, as the ‘Lou was dynamically changing too.

And being teenage boys, enamored with a friend’s spirited recounting the entire experience of seeing the second Ian Fleming adaptation, “From Russia with Love,” the night before at the air-cooled Maplewood Theatre, is a major focus of this play. Rich in details, it’s riveting, as Hanrahan acts out the reminiscence, using Connery’s suave and debonaire demeanor, the beauty of Daniella Bianchi, and the exciting triumph over Spectre.

While Hanrahan showcases his raconteur skills, he offers copious amounts of interesting details – of the segregation issues across America, how Gussie Busch, who took over ownership of the Cardinals in 1953, led the way in integrating the team. Our Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Lou Brock joined Ken Boyer, Dick Groat, Curt Flood, Julian Javier, Bill White and a young Mike Shannon in defeating the all-white Yankees dynasty in seven games.

Looking back, it was a seminal moment in American history, and Hanrahan credits David Halberstam’s book, “October 1964,” for the insight into race issues in Major League Baseball.

Hanrahan doesn’t shy away from mentioning the developing racial tensions and progress here either.

The reflections are palpable. He expresses the joys of a halcyon youth 57 years ago with panache, taking us back to the days of hi-fis playing 45s of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me” – the Beatles scored the top five positions on the Billboard Top 40 singles in America, an unprecedented achievement. Or the LP “Meet the Beatles,” which Joe hijacked from his sister.

The production is deftly directed by Shane Signorino, who has worked with Hanrahan before.

Video designer Michael B. Perkins has enhanced the one-man show with a cultural panoply of the sights and sounds of the day – the Fab Four, MLB players and the front office brass, and snippets of the Bond movie.

It’s a clever multi-media presentation. Kevin Bowman also provides crisp production and lighting design.

While he threads a boy’s look back, Hanrahan delivers dollops of theatrical wisdom. It is, after all, a work of theater – with drama and comedy.

A bonus is a magazine cover display in the lobby, courtesy of Redbirds fan George Venegoni.

Hanrahan has linked the time it was in an engaging way, guaranteed to produce smiles on a warm St. Louis summer night.

The show runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., July 8 through July 24, and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on July 25, at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander. For more information: midnightcompany.com. Tickets available at metrotix.com.

The Midnight Company will present the premiere of the full version of “NOW PLAYING THIRD BASE FOR THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS…BOND, JAMES BOND,” opening July 8, and running through July 25 at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive, 63105.

There will be performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, with a matinee on Sunday, July 25, at 2pm.  The show was originally scheduled May 24 through June 14.  Tickets, at $20, will be on sale Wednesday, June 16 at MetroTIx.com.  (Midnight is currently in production with HERE LIES HENRY, through June 27.)

The one-man play is written and performed by Midnight Artistic Director Joe Hanrahan. 

It was performed in a shortened version at the 2018 St. Louis Fringe Festival, and audiences responded enthusiastically and critics raved. Snoops Theatre Thoughts said “A delightful show that’s part personal memoir, part history lesson, part nostalgia, and all fascinating.  A difficult show to describe but what it is is excellent.”

Jeff Ritter of Limelight said, “Hanrahan jumps from omniscient narrator to 15-year old movie fanatic to baseball and theatre historian, the audience hanging on every word. The Cardinals are the talk of the town again. This show should be the talk of the town, too!” 

Hanrahan said, “There’s never been a play we’ve done that’s received such enthusiastic, visceral reaction, due, surely, to the St. Louis history in the show. Not to mention Bond and baseball. At the Fringe, productions are limited to one-hour playing time, and this new version will allow us to incorporate new material that should hopefully make the show ever more entertaining and informative.”

NOW PLAYING THIRD BASE FOR THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS…BOND, JAMES BOND concerns  a teen-age boy in 1964.  JFK’s assassination still casts a pall on the nation. The Beatles’ emergence in February of ’64 starts to lighten the mood. The Cardinals continue the good times in St. Louis with a mad dash toward the pennant. And when a new movie hero hits the screens that summer, a bunch of boys on a baseball field have their first theatre experience, when one of their gang offers a spirited 30-minute one-man show of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. 

Throughout, the playwright draws links between what’s happened and happening –  from JFK to James Bond; from segregation in St. Louis to segregation in baseball’s Southern Leagues and at Florida stadiums where The Beatles played; from WWII to hardcore British film production crews and JFK hit squads; from the first cave man who stood up by the fire to the theatre musings of Peter Brook…most of it swirling in front of the eyes of a young boy, most of it sharp memories of the time it was.

Shane Signorino will direct the show, as he did at The Fringe (Shane received a Theatre Critics Circle nomination as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy for for his work in Midnight’s POPCORN FALLS), and recently, directed FEAST from Tesseract. Kevin Bowman will serve as Production and Lighting Designer, Michael B. Perkins will design video support (as he did for Midnight productions of A MODEL FOR MATISSE, JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG, and LITTLE THING BIG THING), and Elizabeth Henning, who’s worked with Midnight on several productions, will be Stage Manager. 

Photo by Todd Davis

There will also be a concurrent exhibit in The Chapel lobby of memorabilia from 1950’s/60’s baseball, presented by George Venegoni.

Hanrahan has acted, written and directed for The Midnight Company, appearing in 2020’s only live pandemic production, SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL and currently in HERE LIES HENRY.  In 2019 for Midnight he was seen in POPCORN FALLS, CHARLIE JOHNSON READS ALL OF PROUST, and in his scripts of PATIENT #47 (at The Crawl) and A MODEL FOR MATISSE (which received a Theatre Critics Circle nomination for Best New Play).  Last year, before the pandemic, he was also in the casts of Metro Theater’s GHOST and SATE’s APHRA BEHN FESTIVAL.

For more information, visit midnightcompany.com.

By Lynn Venhaus
Oh the irony. Henry, who is an off-kilter sort, likes to sing “On the Sunny Side of the Street” when his life is anything but – or at least appears that way. That sets the tone for “Here Lies Henry,” a kooky one-man show that opened by The Midnight Company at the Kranzberg Arts Center’s blackbox theatre last weekend.

Part jester, part blowhard, Henry’s personality is central to his act, a freeform stream of conscience where he wonders aloud why there are yellow fire trucks and repeats his schtick with some twists. He wants to tell you something that you don’t already know. He can rant but he’d rather get a laugh. Did he really say that? Did he commit any of the crimes he takes credit for?

Henry is an entertainer created by the fertile mind of quirky Daniel MacIvor, a Canadian playwright, actor and screenwriter. MacIvor specializes in solo pieces, just like Joe Hanrahan, a St. Louis theater veteran, who acts, directs, writes and produces. He adds the peculiar and curious Henry to his repertoire of uncommon characters.

Hanrahan likes choosing works that aren’t part of the mainstream, and as The Midnight Company’s latest one-man show, the first since the coronavirus public health restrictions lifted, it’s a good fit.

Hanrahan has previously performed MacIvor’s other works, “Cul-de-Sac” and “House,” and understands the rhythm the playwright attains in this 1995 work.

As he tackles love and death, Hanrahan displays Henry’s awkwardness, his impish penchant for odd jokes and puns, and builds more confidence as he weaves tall tales. Henry might be “not quite right,” but will we know?

Director Ellie Schwetye, who has worked with Hanrahan multiple times, is also familiar with the off-center and the screwball. There is an ease to the presentation, maintaining a mood where you don’t quite know what’s happening or where it will go, but you’re willing to take the ride.

That uncertainty is the chief tone throughout – as Henry, who admits he lies, embellishes stories about his parents and life. Is he serious? Is this a TED talk? Or is this a comedy club’s open-mic night? It has that feel of a guy telling big whoppers at a bar – but you can’t ignore him here as he is compelled to get on your good side.

As always, Hanrahan is entertaining in his unconventional, idiosyncratic way. “Here Lies Henry” doesn’t necessarily answer the Big Questions, but you’ll have fun with the asking.

Technically, the show flows smoothly, with Tony Anselmo’s lighting design and Kevin Bowman’s production design. Anselmo designed lighting for Midnight Company’s past works, “Popcorn Falls” and “A Model for Matisse.”

“Here Lies Henry” is an interesting look at one man’s point of view. The play is presented without intermission and runs 70 minutes.

Photo by Joey Rumpell

“Here Lies Henry” will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, from June 10 to June 26, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, June 27, at the Kranzberg Black Box. For tickets, visit MetroTix.com or MidnightCompany.com. Call 314-487-5305 for more information.

By Lynn Venhaus
Ambitious and intriguing, “Madam” is a new musical full of promise and potential.

Elevated by a charming cast of local performers, this vibrant musical cements composer and music director Colin Healy as one to watch.

His fifth original musical, “Madam” showcases what a multi-talent he is — Healy wrote the book, music and lyrics and did the orchestrations for his new Fly North Theatricals company’s latest work. He also conducts a very tight band and plays the piano.

With a lot of passion and heart behind it, “Madam” had a triumphant sell-out run of nine performances last summer at the Bluff City Theater in Hannibal, which commissioned the musical.

Now, St. Louisans has the opportunity to discover one of its most notorious businesswomen from the 19th century, wealthy brothel madam and philanthropist Eliza Haycraft. She built quite an empire, as the opening song says, and became the richest woman in Missouri, beloved by the general public during the Reconstruction Era.

Haycraft, born in 1820, arrived destitute in St. Louis at age 20. When prostitution was legal, for only a brief time, in St. Louis, she became owner and manager of a brothel, doing well even though she couldn’t read or write. She bought commercial and residential property and rented it back out. She was known for helping the city’s poor, offering them help and financial aid.

Healy’s crafted message is about the vulnerability of aging and the power of saying “No.”
Haycraft empowered her courtesans by granting them the right to refuse service to anyone. She had three simple rules: Respect, Consent and Pay Up Front.

“Madam” focuses on the last year of her life – she died in 1871 at age 51. While based on true events, the musical fictionalizes the story about a search for an heir to her sex empire when the richest and most powerful men were hellbent on taking it all away from her.

The passage of The Social Evils Act of 1870 made her business legitimate, but denied women affected by it of many of their rights they previously enjoyed.

The fascinating story’s conflicts must include the double standard conundrum – her houses were well-frequented by those rich guys who ran the city but she was shut out of polite society.

What the musical brings out in the small cast of female characters is their dependence on prostitution to support themselves and their independence by defying the status quo at a time when they had few legitimate rights – an early glimpse at feminism and sexism.

These characters are composites of strong spunky women – among them an escaped slave who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Union Army and a sister to Victoria Woodhull, a candidate for president in 1872.

Sunny Eileen Engel and Gracie Sartin, who have been with the production since its workshop, effortlessly strut with confidence in song and dance, smiles beaming as Tennie and Ripley.

They open the show, along with new addition Marta Bady as gutsy Billie, with a vivacious “Empire.” The three are often paired in song – including “Love Is Work,” “Another Fence (The Baseball Song)” and “The Great Benefactor.”

They aren’t the only working girls with gumption – Abigail Becker is the complicated once-married Mercy Jones and Cameron Pille is the troubled Calista, each with outstanding solos: Mercy in “A Man with Money” and “I Want to be a Star,” and the sad “The Unfortunate Song” with The Benefactor (Phil Leveling), and Calista with “It Feels So Good” and “Special.”

The women have moments to shine and plenty of melodic tunes to sing, and director Sydnie Grosberg Ronga has staged the musical numbers with verve in the small .Zack space, creating an intimacy by having performers up close on the ground and on the second level, not far from the audience.

Scenic designer George Shea has created a good space for the action to flow, well-lit by lighting designer Kevin Bowman.

Healy knows the drawbacks of the .Zack’s acoustics, and his sound designer Tazu Marshall has done a terrific job.

Choreographer Carly Niehaus has resolved the space challenges with streamlined numbers that punctuate the music. Eileen Engel also designed the costumes, and she made them extremely functional while period-appropriate.

The St. Louis cast is almost the same as the Hannibal cast minus three. Kimmie Kidd-Booker, who played Madam in the COCA workshop and Billie in Bluff City, resumes the leading role as man-hating Eliza. She is fierce and feisty as this remarkable dignified woman in her declining final days.

With her rich, velvety voice, Kidd-Booker has become a welcome fixture in both regional professional and community theater. She commands attention as she sashays across the two-level set with major attitude, first introduced in “All You Need to Know.” Her “No,” with Calista in the Part 1, and solo in Part 2, is a hard-hitting high point.

She understands Eliza as a smart, pragmatic woman who knows how to operate in a male-dominated world. Her mistrust of men reaches a boiling point as they threaten to ruin her. Fuming, she joins Ripley and The Benefactor in “The Social Evils Act.”

One of the three new cast members, Leveling has a fine voice but seems miscast as the unsavory The Benefactor, an imposing bad guy and frequent customer. This male chauvinist pig must be menacing and Phil is not that. In reality, maybe it’s a good thing that he’s not believable being mean to women, but not for the part – it is a sticky wicket. The role is a tad underwritten as it is.

While the music – infused with jazz and blues for a St. Louis flavor — is admirable, the book could use a little more tweaking – there are a few time leaps that are somewhat confusing

The musical is still a work in progress but the elements for success are there and will be going places.

Fly North Theatricals presents the local premiere of “Madam” from Jan. 10 to Feb. 2, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the .Zack Theater, 3224 Locust Street. For more information, visit www.flynorthmusic.com.

By Andrea BraunContributing WriterIndecent (2017) by Paula Vogel tells the story of a play written by the young Sholem Asch entitled God of Vengeance, first performed in 1907. It is presented as his first play, but it is actually his second; however, this and other departures from fact are described by Vogel as “emotional truth,” rather than absolute historical accuracy.

“Vengeance” ran in Germany in the original Yiddish and
was translated and traveled to several other countries, but then came America. At
first, Asch’s play ran off Broadway and stayed more or less under the radar.
But when it moved uptown to the Apollo and the general public was going to be
courted to buy tickets, as Vogel tells it, the script was changed without
Asch’s knowledge or permission because it contained “unacceptable” material.

Photo by Dan DonovanFor example, a Jewish man makes his living owning a
house of prostitution while he and his wife and “virginal” daughter occupy an
apartment upstairs. This was considered by American Jews to be anti-Semitic,
since the Jewish procurer was a stereotype and would be reinforced in the
general public’s mind. So would the focus on making money any way possible. At
one point, he becomes so furious he destroys a holy Torah, a great sin in
Judaism. But most controversial of all was what became known as “the rain
scene,” in which the daughter kisses one of the prostitutes and they proclaim
their love. To middle-class Americans, this is pornographic filth.

Photo by Dan DonovanAsch is so depressed he can’t leave his house.
Finally, his loving and patient wife talks him into attending a rehearsal, but
to him, the play is dead. The longtime stage manager, Lemml (Lou) also
considers this is a disaster, and it’s something they just cannot understand.
Even stranger, the play is closed down by the police and the actors are
arrested and tried, but the playwright and Lemml are not. Lemml tells Asch that
he is going to take the play back to Poland and translate it back into Yiddish.
He tells Asch, “I am tired of being in a country that laughs at the way I
speak. They say America is free? What [sic] do you know here is free?”

And so he does and his troupe performs the play in
cafes, attics, basements—anywhere that will have them until the Holocaust
decimated the European Jewish community of artists and patrons.  Asch himself returns after he’s received an
“invitation” from the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s to
live in London and write prolifically until he literally dies in the saddle, at
his desk, writing. Before he leaves, he meets a young scholar from Yale whom he
tells that he, Asch, “lost six million [who] have left the theater.”

Photo by Dan DonovanThat’s the plot, but now comes the hard part: telling you about the production, which is indescribably beautiful (but I’ll try to describe it anyway). I haven’t listed the names of actors who play the characters because they are all played by seven extraordinary performers who not only tell the story through words but also through song and dance.

They are accompanied on stage by a group of three Klezmer musicians, who play a violin, bass clarinet, and accordion to help express both the sadness and joy the audience and characters are experiencing. I’ve only seen four of the actors listed below (Judi Mann, Tim Schall, John Flack, and Paul Cereghino) but I’ve never witnessed any of them stronger or more sure of the material which makes them turn into other people on a dime.

Photo by Dan Donovan

The evocative music is directed by Ron McGowan, Ellen
Isom choregraphs, Phillip Evans gets credit for sound, and Menachem Szus is the
Yiddish dialect coach.It is a clever conceit to have titles on the rear wall to
help us know where we are, and to have the actors use perfect English to speak
their native languages and accented English when they are speaking a second or
third language. The action spans Warsaw from 1906 to Bridgeport, Connecticut in
the 1950s, and as the program notes, “everywhere in between.”

It’s difficult to write about Indecent without gushing, and I don’t think I managed it. But you
know what? It’s brilliant in every way, so a little gushing is justified. It is
both timely and timeless, and I hope you’ll go see for yourself.

Max and Louie Productions presents “Indecent” at the Grandel Theatre through June 30. Tickets are available through Metrotix and more information is available at www.maxandlouie.com

Photo by Patrick HuberThe
Troupe

TJ
Lancaster:  Lemml, The
Stage Manager; Paul Cereghino: The
Ingenue: Avram/Ensemble; Zoe Farmingdale:
The Ingenue: Chana/ Ensemble; John Flack:
The Elder: Otto/Ensemble;  Katie Karel: The Middle:
Halina/Ensemble; Judi Mann: The
Elder: Vera/Ensemble; Tim Schall: The
Middle: Mendel/Ensemble

The
Musicians

Alyssa Avery: Nelly Friedman/Violin/Ensemble; Kris Pineda: Moritz Godowsky/Accordion/Ensemble; Jack Theiling: Mayer Balsam/ Clarinet & Mandolin/Ensemble

Photo by Patrick Huber

The Tesseract Theatre Company is changing gears and identity starting late spring 2019. The company will no long be producing a September – May calendar season. Instead it will premiere is first annual Festival of New Plays, premiering three new works over the course of two weeks, starting May 15 through the 26. These full productions will be performed in rep, so all three shows will be available to be seen each weekend of the festival.

The three shows, to be performed at the .Zack, 3224 Locust, are “Earworm” by Shualee Cook, “Dates” by Elizabeth Breed Penny and “Hoist” by Erin Lane.

“Earworm” will be directed by Morgan Maul-Smith.

“Earworm” tells the story of Candles Out, a decade-old punk rock break up song seeking closure with five people whose lives she’s entwined with in very different ways – a strange trip involving music and memory and how each affects the other.

Show dates and times:Wed. May 15 @ 7pmSun. May 19 @ 2pmThur. May 23 @ 7pmSat. May 25 @ 8pmSun. May 26 @ 2pm

In “Dates,” to be directed by Tinah Twardowski, Caroline has been finding it hard to live in the outside world: literally. And the more her friends try to help, the higher she builds her walls.

Dates and times:Fri. May 17 @ 8pmSat. May 18 @ 2pmSun. May 19 @ 7pmWed. May 22 @ 7pmSun. May 26 @ 7pm

In “Hoist,” to be directed by Kevin Bowman, Skyler, a recently returned Iraq war veteran, attempts to forget, so she can continue to exist in peace. Unfortunately, the effects of her military experience, and the return of an old flame, complicate her mostly good intentions.

Dates and times:Thur. May 16 @ 7pmSat. May 18 @ 8pmFri. May 24 @ 8pmSat. May 25 @ 2pm

Tickets are available by calling MetroTix at 314-534-1111 at the Fabulous Fox box office, or by visiting www.metrotix.comTesseract tells big stories small. The company’s mission is to be an artistic home for diverse artists and a leader in new play development in the Midwest.For more information, visit www.tesseracttheatre.com