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by Joe Hanrahan / January 21, 2024

In 26 years of theatre productions from Midnight, there has been very little live music evident.
Though I take great pleasure, as a Director, in choosing pre-recorded background music to embellish shows (and never had more fun than choosing the music for SATE’s production of CUDDLES - recounted in this Midnight blog from 2016, the only live music Midnight shows have ever presented have been in THE BALLAD OF JESSE JAMES (Larry Dell’s guitar and the boys hymn at their brother’s grave), LITTLE THING BIG THING (Will Bonfiglio’s fiddle), THE EVEREST GAME (The Beatles singing the song they gave to Billy J. Kramer acapella) and, of course, MY VIOLIN MY VOICE ) with Amy Greenhalgh’s masterful violin taking center stage.)

But with ST. LOUIS WOMAN, (a show that baffled the St. Louis critics community - Is it cabaret? What is it? All agreed LAKA was terrific), a whole new genre of theatre was introduced to (or rather by) Midnight. ST. LOUIS WOMAN was its own animal, but that segued into a variety of shows at the cabaret space, Blue Strawberry. And those shows were something we called Cabaret Theatre - music presented in a cabaret space, accompanied by a strong story. It started with JUST ONE LOOK (the Ronstadt show, 15 sellouts in a row with a continuing run). followed by the Judy Garland show YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU, and then the shaggy dog PROFESSOR SUNSHINE’S ROCK ’N ROLL REVIVAL. That one was not just the first fictional story we presented in a cabaret setting (not sure how many others of that ilk there’s been), but something else quite dramatic for Midnight - my collaborator Kelly Howe suggested strongly that, besides taking a role in that show, I also had to sing. (Yikes! I’m not a singer, never considered it. So I never claim to sing, I “perform.”) But I girded my loins and took on a couple songs - both carefully chosen by me to echo singers who aren’t the best singers - “A Song For You” by Leon Russell, and the Richie Havens arrangement of The Beatles “Rocky Raccoon.” I didn’t slay the house, but I survived.

But now comes two shows in March with Eileen Engel - one, JACEY’S JAZZ JOINT, a one woman show, and the other, MOVIE MUSIC, which includes an appearance by me and my role in a few songs. I will duet with Eileen on a couple, and have one solo - again a song that was originally performed (and won an Oscar) by an actor turned singer. So I feel a bit OK trying it that way again.

So why am I doing this? And why is this happening to me now? I don’t know, but I’m glad it is. This new genre (for me) of combining music with story is an energizing twist on creating. But me singing (performing)? I’m not hungering for it, but me doing that has seemed like logical, necessary elements of newly created scripts. And it’s certainly proposing a challenge for me that I can’t underestimate. What I’m enjoying/learning in this second round of it is telling the story of a song, making sure the words and thus maybe the emotions of the music are forthcoming. In doing so, I’m falling back on my love for Frank Sinatra and the way I’ve used him as I studied for numerous stage roles. Whenever I’m doing a part with a lot of lines, I always listen to a lot of Sinatra. I focus on his articulation - no matter how swinging Frank gets, you always hear every syllable. I’ll now move that appreciation from word to song.

Fiinally, if I had any doubt some of the spirits were aligning, a recent horoscope gave me this advice:

Why do birds sing? They must be expressing their joy at being alive, right? And in some cases, they are trying to impress and attract potential mates. Ornithologists tell us that birds are also staking out their turf by chirping their melodies. Flaunting their vigor is a sign to other birds of how strong and commanding they are. In accordance with astrological omens, I invite you Aries humans to sing more than ever before in 2024. Like birds, you have a mandate to boost your joie de vivre and wield more authority.

Not only is it a basic prompt to sing (looking forward to that joie de vivre) but that “Why do birds sing?” question. Linda Ronstadt has been quoted as giving that answer when asked why does she sing - she compared herself to birds, who sing for he same reasons as her - joy, finding a mate, staking out turf. We almost included that quote in JUST ONE LOOK.

So, when it comes to Midnight, we’ll continue to sing to a different tune in ’24 and beyond.


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