Vernel Bagneris, creator and star of Jelly Roll! and One Mo' Time, again brings his syncopated talents to the stage. He stars in and helped revise a version of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's 1946 musical, St. Louis Woman, being staged in concert form June 10-25 (officially opening June 14) at Philadelphia, PA's Prince Music Theatre. Prince artistic director Ben Levit directs as well as co-devised the adaptation with Bagneris and theatre historian Larry Maslon.
St. Louis Woman features music by Harold Arlen and a book by Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen. Based on Bontemps' novel, "God Sends Sunday," St. Louis Woman ran only 113-performances in its original mounting, which featured an all-black cast (among them: Pearl Bailey and the Nicholas Brothers). The musical received a highly acclaimed Encores! concert staging in New York in April 1998, with Charles S. Dutton, Vanessa Williams, Chuck Cooper and Helen Goldsby in the leads.
Tunes in the show include "Come Rain or Come Shine," "It's a Woman's Prerogative," "I Wonder What Became of Me," and "Legalize My Name."
The Philly staging features Bagneris as jockey Little Augie, in love with Della Green (Sondra M. Bonitto), despite the threat of her temperamental boyfriend, Biglow Brown (Brian Anthony Wilson). Joilet Harris plays Brown's ex-girlfriend, Lila.
Designing St. Louis Woman at the Prince Music Theatre are Peter Jakubowski (sets and lighting) and Ramona Broomer. Craig Harris serves as conductor and music supervisor, with Louis Goldberg as musical director. Willa Jo Zollar, founder and artistic director of Urban Bush Women, will choreograph the 27-member cast. For tickets ($30-$36) and information on St. Louis Woman call (215) 569-9700.
Since starting in 1984 as the American Music Theatre Festival, the Prince Music Theatre has produced more than 80 musicals, 49 of them world premieres. Among the mountings were Band in Berlin and last season’s Running Man.
According to Prince Music Theatre spokesperson Beverly Volpe, next season will bring a revival of Candide, May 15-27, 2001, directed by Levit.