Chanteuse Anais St. John knows how to use sex to sell a song. With two Ramp Room performances of her show "Lulu White: Queen of Storyville", St. John uses songs to tell the story of a woman who sold sex.
White was the proprietor of Mahogany Hall, considered one of the most luxurious brothels on Basin Street. The four-story mansion was described as a palace of opulence, filled with the finest art, furnishings and chandeliers. Its 15 bedrooms each had an adjoining bathroom, an ultimate luxury of the day. In Storyville's heyday, White housed 40 women, who served the city's wealthiest men.
In her show, St. John doesn't portray White but tells her story through a number of songs. While the act uses little in the way of original music, St. John and writer Denise Altobello chose instead to interpolate a number of songs - mostly anachronistically - from varying sources.
As a result, "Queen of Storyville" becomes more a blending of impressions of the famed madam and her times as seen through the lens of a variety of artists and songwriters. These range from such expected numbers as "Basin Street Blues" and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" to numbers from such Broadway musicals as "Chicago" and (you guessed it) "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Even "Brown Sugar" by the Rolling Stones finds its way into the tale.
By sheer force of her high energy vocals, St. John propels each song filling the stage with passion and a seductive humor. A statuesque beauty herself, St. John's vivid stage presence also makes her a charming entertainer, overcoming any question of the material itself. Her flirtatious manner engages the audience on a virtual one-to-one basis.
With a saucy naughtiness that today might seem relatively tame, there are still lines in the script that may raise some eyebrows. Altobello doesn't shrink from describing explicitly the details of the services offered in White's establishment - en francais or not - and St. John delivers those lines with a direct sharpness.
The patter between songs is informative and opinionated, painting White in what might be too glowing a picture. It celebrates her entrepreneurship, certainly an accomplishment for a woman in the South of the early 20th century. However, in the rosy gleam of old New Orleans nostalgia, the inherently exploitative nature of her business is glossed over, seemingly incongruous with contemporary standards.
Dinner will be served before and during this Ramp Room performance. Please visit Open Table to reserve your table between 6pm and 8pm after purchasing your online tickets.
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