How does a big dance number change as a musical develops? Join Art&Seek for a rare look behind the scenes. “St. Louis” is the all-important, opening number of The Dallas Theater Center’s Stagger Lee. The song sets the play’s themes of African-American migration from backwoods Mississippi to a possibly better life in the big city in the early 1900s. Watch the performance change – and change some more – over the course of a year as it proceeds from one of the earliest workshops to a dress rehearsal shortly before previews begin.
Will Power wrote Stagger Lee’s book and lyrics and he composed the music with Justin Ellington. In this video, Power talks about the themes of “St. Louis,” and we show a very early version of the song being performed at an invitation-only workshop performance in Hamon Hall at the Winspear Opera House, which the creators held to get feedback on the story and music. Tiffany Mann sings the role of Delilah.
Until now, Will Power, Justin Ellington and Daryl Waters have been leading the production. The cast has not been finalized. Director Patricia McGregor, who lives in New York, travels to Dallas for a five-week workshop. In the video at left, McGregor explains how “St. Louis” is changing. The video at right records the number during the workshop in the Wyly Theatre rehearsal room.
Choreographer Millicent Johnnie has left the production and Camille A. Brown replaces her. Rehearsals have begun. Previews are in a month. In the video at left, Brown talks about stepping into her role. The video at right is the latest version of “St. Louis” in rehearsal.
January 2014: Dress Rehearsal
On Jan. 16, the cast performed the “St. Louis” number all the way through, in costume, for the first time — on the Wyly Theatre stage instead of in the rehearsal room. Here again, we see the first minutes of that opener. Some stage elements are missing (note the two stagehands standing in for a tree on the left). Previews, originally to begin Jan. 21, are now scheduled for the 22nd. The number, and the musical itself, will continue to evolve right up to opening night, Jan. 30.
January 2014: Preview Performance
Thursday, January 22. Opening night is a week away. The company puts on its first preview performance. The audience hears a complete band and the set’s elements are now in place. But the show, sound and lights will continue to be tweaked until opening night. Footage: Bobby Hester for Dallas Theater Center.
Join KERA’s Art&Seek for a rare backstage look at how a professional musical is born.
The Dallas Theater Center built Stagger Lee entirely from scratch, from the story to the set. Art&Seek has tracked the progress of the show since an early workshop in 2013. The show opens at the Wyly Theater on Jan. 30.
Meet the creators of the story and music, watch the show change, learn more about the real-life Stagger Lee, and listen to the way musicians have mythologized him for almost a century.