Songs For Nobodies

Website Review

Mark Bretz – Ladue News, January 30, 2020

Lennon Shows Impressive Range in ‘Songs for Nobodies

Story: Five different women share their reminiscences about a quintet of legendary female performers, each recalling a little-known anecdote about the various stars in personal, one-on-one meetings.

A washroom attendant named Beatrice Appleton relates how she met famed movie star Judy Garland when the latter used the fancy women’s restroom in a swanky New York City hotel. Beatrice was a big fan and was elated when she experienced first-hand how accessible Frances Gumm could be.

Pearl Avalon enjoyed her role as an usher in a Kansas City concert hall, even revealing how she herself liked to sing a good tune. When country music superstar Patsy Cline appeared there at a benefit concert, the latter was delighted to hear Pearl’s more than adequate voice, so much so that she gave Pearl a shout-out during Cline’s performance.

Edie Delamotte, an English librarian who visits France every other year, warmly recalls the night she met renowned French cabaret torch singer Edith Piaf and how the diminutive singer cast such a large presence. A New York Times fashion writer nicknamed Too Junior Jones describes what it was like when she interviewed trend-setting jazz singer Billie Holliday for a story which changed her own career.

Completing the five ‘nobodies’ is a randy Irish nanny named Orla McDonagh, who is along for the ride on a cruise ship where the tempestuous affair between opera diva Maria Callas and Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis becomes more flagrantly open. Callas demonstrates how her larger-than-life personality and soaring soprano shaped her famous performances.

Five unforgettable performers recalled by a quintet of everyday folks, as the latter tell their fond tales about ‘Songs for Nobodies.’

Highlights: Debby Lennon displays an impressive breadth of talent as both singer and actress in Max & Louie Productions’ richly rewarding version of Joanna Murray-Smith’s captivating play with music.

Other Info: Murray-Smith’s affecting paean to the connections between stars and their fans was written originally to be performed by Australian chanteuse Bernadette Robinson more than a decade ago. Robinson later took the show on a triumphant run in London’s West End.

Last month Robinson reprised her work in Melbourne, where a critic said of her performance, “I don’t believe anyone else could perform this show, which demands a unique blend of expertise: a talent for accents, an ability to sing in any range and genre, and acting versatility.”

Well, good news for that reviewer: Debby Lennon more than adequately fills the bill in those regards. Lennon’s accomplishments in her impressive vocal range are well known and she’s also demonstrated she can act quite well, too.

With Songs for Nobodies, though, she displays an excellent knack for following dialect coach Pamela Reckamp’s precise instructions on how to handle accents as varied as Irish, English, New York and even a Southern drawl. On a modest set designed by Dunsi Dai which serves primarily as a springboard for Lennon to showcase her crafts, the performer superbly forms 10 distinctly different characters.

While one may disagree with Murray-Smith’s suggestion that a fashion writer for the New York Times is a ‘nobody,’ there’s no quibbling with Lennon’s artistic excellence. She sets up each of the five segments with a fully convincing and witty shaping of the unknown women before giving us a teasing taste of the lusty personalities and professional stylings of each singer.

Lennon was invaluably assisted on opening night by music director Nicolas Valdez at the piano, Jake Stergos on bass and percussionist Keith Bowman, all of whom were strategically positioned behind a curtain on Dai’s spartan set. Tony Anselmo’s lighting shrewdly elevated sundry poignant moments when Lennon delivered spot-on renditions of famous songs in voices which matched both the timbre and tone of the original singers.

Kevin Bowman’s projections accentuated the times and locales of each vignette as well as visual reminders of the singers themselves. Dorothy Jones provides costume design, Stellie Siteman contributes props and Philip Evans adds the supportive sound design.

Much credit goes to director Pamela Hunt, who maintains an easy flow to the proceedings, allowing Lennon to freely inhabit each of her 10 interesting characters, famous or not.

Whether it’s African-American Holliday rasping the racial injustices behind Strange Fruit or Callas’ transcendent rendition of Puccini’s aria, Vissi d’arte, Lennon shapes each tune in the style and personality of the sundry singers. Add Cline’s robust take on San Antonio Rose, Piaf’s cabaret telling of Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien and Garland’s reassuring touch — all by Lennon, of course — and you have a one-act wonder of a show which ends all too soon.