Posts Tagged ‘madam’

Music, Lyrics, Book, and Orchestrations by Colin Healy
Directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga
Choreographed by Carly Niehaus
Fly North Theatricals
January 11, 2020

Abigail Becker, Gracie Sartin, Kimmie Kidd-Booker, Marta Bady, Eileen Engel
Photo by Caroline Guffey
Fly North Theatricals

It’s especially enjoyable to get to see new shows being developed locally, especially when they are as promising as the latest production from Colin Healy’s Fly North Theatricals. Madam takes a look at a once-prominent but now more obscure figure in St. Louis history, fashioning a story around her that proves to be a vehicle for a memorable score and strong performances. Even though some of the plot elements are predictable, it proves to be a thoroughly entertaining theatrical experience.

The show is somewhat deceptively titled, in that, while 19th Century St. Louis madam Eliza Haycraft (Kimmie Kidd-Booker) is a prominent figure in the play, the story more often focuses on her “girls”, the employees at the high-class brothel she runs that is also greedily eyed by a well-connected man listed in the program only as “The Benefactor” (Phil Leveling). It’s the brothel’s residents and employees who start off the show and mostly serve as narrators, each one with her own signature color. Each of the girls also has her own hopes and goals for life beyond the brothel, or (in one case) not. There’s the adventurous but insecure Calista (Cameron Pille); the brash Billie (Marta Bady)–who once disguised herself as a man to serve in the Civil War; the caring Ripley (Gracie Sartin), who’s saving money to go to medical school; and Tennie (Eileen Engel), who wants to find and reconnect with her sister, a noted activist. At least some of these characters are loosely based on real people, as well. The action starts when the mysterious Mercy Jones (Abigail Becker) appears asking for help, and is taken in, eventually befriending the girls and gaining the confidence of Eliza. At least, that’s how it starts. There is a twist, and it’s not hard to guess, although the lack of suspense in that area doesn’t take away from the story, because the real drama here is in the characters, and especially in their relationships. Although the Benefactor is somewhat of a cartoonish villain, even that’s not a problem, as the memorable score heavily influenced by classic musical theatre traditions, and the compelling script make the show work. The strong performances, both in acting and in singing, also help immensely.

Those strong performances are turned in by an especially cohesive ensemble cast, led by the four “working girls” with Bady and Sartin especially standing out for their presence and the strength of their voices. Kidd-Booker is also a standout as the ailing but determined Eliza, and Becker is also strong as the enigmatic Mercy, and Leveling makes a suitably oily vilain, as well. Healy’s score is catchy, as well, providing a lot of excellent material for the strong voices of the cast, from the driving “Empire” at the beginning to ballads like Mercy’s “I Want to Be a Star” to Billie’s especially memorable “Another Fence (the Baseball Song)”.

A lot of the credit for this show’s success should go to Healy, who not only wrote the book, music, and lyrics, but also serves as the show’s musical director, plays piano, and conducts the excellent band. The shows other technical merits include a colorful set by George Shea and detailed period costumes by Eileen Engel. Kevin Bowman’s evocative lighting and Tazu Marshall’s sound also ably contribute to the overall mood and 19th Century atmosphere of the show.

There’s a message of empowerment here along with the memorable characterizations, as well, and although the setting is in a brothel, it’s not quite as raunchy as I had been expecting–though it has its moments in that department. It’s an especially strong showing for such a new show that’s only had one full-scale production before this one. Mostly, it’s a show full of memorable characters, strong relationships, and a catchy score, and although there are a few places where the script could be smoothed out a bit, Madam has made a strong showing in this highly entertaining production from Fly North Theatricals.

Kimmie Kidd-Booker
Photo by Caroline Guffey
Fly North Theatricals

Fly North Theatricals is presenting Madam at the .Zack Theatre until February 2, 2020

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