Songs For Nobodies

Newspaper Review

Calvin Wilson – St. Louis Post Dispatch, January 24, 2020

Max & Louie’s ‘Songs for Nobodies‘ is an intimate triumph

Five ordinary women encounter or reminisce about their musical idols in “Songs for Nobodies,” running through Feb. 2 in a richly entertaining Max & Louie production. And those 10 women are all played by one performer.

Debby Lennon brings considerable stage presence to Joanna Murray-Smith’s play with music about celebrity and those who bask in its glow. The playwright focuses on a quintet of truly unforgettable singers: opera diva Maria Callas, country music star Patsy Cline, pop legend Judy Garland, jazz icon Billie Holiday and cabaret great Edith Piaf.

Lennon slips into the skins of their fictional admirers — nanny Orla McDonagh, theater usher Pearl Avalon, washroom attendant Beatrice Ethel Appleton, reporter Too Junior Jones and librarian Edie Delamotte, respectively — and steps into the persona of each singer with confidence and charisma.

But Lennon, who has performed in venues from the Muny to Opera Theatre of St. Louis, doesn’t indulge in mere mimicry. Rather, she evokes the spirit of the performer she’s portraying while imbuing the song with a mercurial blend of dynamism and grace.

“Strange Fruit,” a scathing indictment of racism made famous by Holiday, elicits a deeply affecting interpretation. Equally poignant is Lennon’s take on “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” which Piaf immortalized.

Not just a cabaret act with the usual between-numbers patter, “Songs for Nobodies” is very much a play, which Murray-Smith has crafted with precision and insight. And director Pamela Hunt conjures a mood at once intimate and celebratory.

Also contributing to that effect are Dunsi Dai’s set, Tony Anselmo’s lighting and Phillip Evans’ sound design, which situate Lennon in a show biz twilight zone that’s all the more intriguing for its shadowy allure. And pianist and music director Nicolas Valdez, bassist Ben Wheeler and percussionist Micah Walker deftly negotiate the shifting musical terrain.

Songs for Nobodies” is the kind of purely theatrical experience that, in this age of myriad electronic enticements, is all the more appreciated.