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St. Louis Woman
by Joe Hanrahan
Directed by Joe Hanrahan
The Midnight Company
October 9, 2022

The Midnight Company’s latest production, St. Louis Woman, is more of a revue than a play. Written by the company’s artistic director Joe Hanrahan, the show features a dynamic central performance by a talented singer backed by first-rate musicians, and features an illuminating backdrop of projections that illustrate the stories well. The show tells the stories of St. Louis women in music and the arts, with a variety of songs, dancing, and informative narration.

St. Louis Woman is a one-woman show starring locally-based singer/songwriter and cabaret performer LAKA, who narrates the history of women–particularly Black women–in the arts in St. Louis from the late 19th Century until the present day. She starts out telling the stories behind the classic songs “Frankie and Johnny” and W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”, singing the songs with style and power. Then, the story turns to individual performers and a variety of musical styles, from Willie Mae Ford Smith’s gospel music to the soul and R&B sounds of Fontella Bass and Ann Peebles. There are also sections about dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham and writer Maya Angelou. The biggest featured segments, however, are those centered around legendary singer and cabaret performer Josephine Baker, and Rock/Pop/R&B icon Tina Turner. The performance is a lesson in history as well as a celebration of the work of these celebrated artists, introduced and performed with memorable and versatile style by LAKA.

The main reason to see this production is undoubtedly its leading performer, as well as the superb backing musicians, music director Corey Patterson on keyboards and Gabe Bonfili on percussion. LAKA is notable for her remarkable versatility as she manages various styles from Jazz, to pop, to gospel, to R&B, to rock n’ roll, with excellent power and presence, managing to sing in the styles of the performers she portrays with expert skill, in marvelous tribute to these legendary performers. Acting-wise, she seems a little more uneasy at times, although she also has moments of excellence, especially in the Tina Turner sequence. 

The show itself is highly informative and fascinating, for the most part, although some of the segments are dragged out a little too much, and sometimes it seems more like a series of disjointed vignettes than a cohesive show. The transitions (in which LAKA changes costumes) can be overly long as well, although the musicians and Michael Musgrave-Perkins’s eye-catching projections do help maintain interest in these moments. Visually, it’s an enjoyable show in terms of those wonderful projections of historical photos, and the detailed costumes by Liz Henning, along with Tony Anselmo’s evocative lighting.

Overall, I would say that St. Louis Woman is an entertaining and informative production, covering the important St. Louis music and art and the women who made an impact on this city, and on the world. Although there are a few rough edges, it’s still a memorable, well-performed production featuring an immensely talented performer. LAKA gives this performance her all, and her voice, versatility, and enthusiasm are great reasons to see this show.

LAKA
Photo: The Midnight Company

The Midnight Company is presenting St. Louis Woman at the .ZACK Theatre until October 22, 2022 

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