Arlen & Mercer's St. Louis Woman Now a "Blues Ballet," Getting World Premiere July 8-13

News   Arlen & Mercer's St. Louis Woman Now a "Blues Ballet," Getting World Premiere July 8-13
St. Louis Woman, the bluesy Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer musical from 1946, will be reborn July 8-13 as "a blues ballet," getting its world premiere by Dance Theatre of Harlem as part of the Lincoln Center Festival in Manhattan.

Choreographer Michael Smuin created the new song-flecked work, inspired by the Broadway show that gave the world "Come Rain or Come Shine." Performances play the New York State Theatre July 8-13 in rep with other Dance Theatre of Harlem pieces.

Broadway talent will help create the experience. St. Louis Woman — A Blues Ballet will be conducted by Jonathan Tunick, with the Dance Theatre of Harlem Orchestra. Scenic design is by Tony Walton, costumes by Willa Kim and lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer.

The ballet concept and new libretto are by Jack Wrangler, a veteran writer-director in theatre who is a member of the board of The Johnny Mercer Foundation.

Wrangler knew DTH artistic director Arthur Mitchell from the gym where they worked out, and pitched the idea of the blues ballet to him. When Mitchell agreed, Wrangler developed the new concept and libretto and The Johnny Mercer Foundation took a partnership role with vital seed money.

According to the Mercer Foundation website (, "This new work which combines elements of Broadway musicals with traditional ballet will take its place along side the great world masterpieces of dance. The Mercer-Arlen score is arguably one of the finest ever written including such songs as 'Come Rain or Come Shine,' 'Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home,' 'I Had Myself a True Love,' 'I Wonder What Became of Me' and 'A Woman's Prerogative.'" The production will feature jazz, tap, and classical ballet along with live vocal styling, according to the foundation.

St. Louis Woman, the musical, had a libretto by Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen, based on Bontemps' novel, "God Sends Sunday." It ran 113-performances in its original mounting, which featured an all-black cast that included 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. The score was reconstructed from audio tapes. The Encores! concert cast was preserved on CD.

A 2000 Philadelphia concert of the show played Prince Music Theatre.

On July 11, a symposium about the creation of the new ballet will be held as part of the "Talk About a Great Festival" series, at 6 PM. "The Making of St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet" will feature Arthur Mitchell, founder and artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, discussing the world premiere.

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