Eileen Engel in "Jacey's Jazz Joint"

[Minterview = mini interview.]

Through March 27th, Joe Hanrahan’s Midnight Company is presenting the latest in a series of cabaret-oriented original shows at The Blue Strawberry Showroom and Lounge, just down the street from the Gaslight Theatre on North Boyle.

Movie Music

In “Movie Music” Hanrahan and Eileen Engel serve as hosts for an evening of a dozen songs from classic films. The show includes the stories behind movies along with re-enactments of some memorable scenes.

In “Jacey’s Jazz Joint,” Engel is Jacey, singing an evening of classic songs at her club. As the evening goes on, the songs trigger memories, and Jacey reveals stories of where the money came from to open the joint (a guy named Johnny), how the thorny relationship with Johnny evolved, and the dangerous conclusion to their romantic journey.

I had a chat with Hanrahan and Engel via email about the creative process behind the shows. Here it is, with some edits for clarity.

Chuck Lavazzi (CL): Were “Movie Music” and "Jacey’s Jazz Joint” developed around the same time? Are they companion shows in any way?

Joe Hanrahan (JH): Both were developed at the same time. Eileen and I talked about doing a show. I knew she was classically trained. and did musical theatre, but asked what popular genres she liked, and she said "Jazz."

So I wrote “Jacey's.” But I thought the show was a risk. Most if not all cabaret is real, but this would be a story, fictional, kind of Cabaret Noir. But in case we balked at “Jacey,” I did the movie show as a backup, a middle of the road show that should work. And Eileen, in a magnanimous offering, agreed to do both.

CL: Joe, you’re listed as playwright but to what extent are they collaborations?

JH: The shows are true collaborations. I wrote the scripts. Eileen and I both chose the songs. And the character of Jacey was developed precisely on what Eileen's bringing to the table.

Colin Healy, Music Director and pianist both shows, added some welcome ideas as well as arranging the music. In the case of “Jacey” he and the band (Blake Mickens on bass and Bradley Rohlf percussion ) created their own signature “Jacey's Jazz Joint” sound.

CL: Tim Schall has said that a good cabaret show should be organized like a one-act play, with an overall dramatic arc. For the last year or so, Joe, you have taken this to the next level with scripted shows that are explicitly a cabaret/theatre hybrid. What made you decide to move in that direction after so many years of writing and directing straight plays for Midnight?

JH: After so many years of straight plays, my first introduction to the Cabaret world was with the singer Laka. I first saw her at Blue Strawberry, we started talking, and somehow, we talked a show.

That resulted in “St. Louis Woman”. That may have been the first “cabaret theatre” piece. It was really a play with music. Laka and I discussed doing a stripped down version of the show at Blue Strawberry, but she went in a different direction, and it left me thinking about future shows at Blue Strawberry.

That segued into shows with Kelly Howe and Jennelle Gilreath Owens, and for both (and beyond) I started and stayed honest to my theatre roots. With each show I was compelled to build the music around a real story, something like Tim says, like a one-act play. But written specifically for the Blue Strawberry space and its traditional cabaret setting.

Jacey's Jazz Joint

As other shows move into development status, will continue to pursue that direction.

CL: Eileen, given that your most recent show was SoulSiren’s production of the 1964 drama “Dutchman,” “Movie Music” and "Jacey’s Jazz Joint" look something of a departure. What drew you to these projects?

Eileen Engel: I like to engage in the art of theatrical storytelling and performance through many different avenues, including all types and styles of plays and musicals. I'm lucky to have been able to have a range of different performance opportunities over the years and I will always strive to challenge myself and grow in each adventure.

This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to touch on the dramatic realm and also get to bask in the vivacious and melodious world of musicals and, in this case, Joe's cabaret theatre. My passion for collaborative creative endeavors extends to embracing diverse opportunities, including the exploration of new works.

Although this is the first time Joe and I have worked together, it was a very seamless process. Even though working with Joe was new to me, I have previously collaborated with Colin Healy and Bradley Rolf many times. It was wonderful to blend new and old faces on these shows. I'm very honored to be a part of everything and I really look forward the future of it all!

“Movie Music” had its first performance on March 6th and will be repeated on March 20th. “Jacey’s Jazz Joint” premiered on March 13th and will repeat on Mach 27th. All shows are at the Blue Strawberry, 364 North Boyle. For more information:

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