Falling in Love With Nashville, Jessica Grové Stars in Studio Tenn's THE SOUND OF MUSIC


For Jessica Grové, playing Maria Rainer in Studio Tenn's production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music is, quite simply, a part of the natural evolution of theater. After all, she's already played Marta, Brigitta and Liesl-so playing the young novitiate who comes into the Austrian home of the Von Trapps to become governess to the seven children of the imperious Georg Von Trapp just makes sense.

And, truth be told, Jessica Grové is so lovely and confident, so talented and self-assured--with charm overflowing-it is already clear that Nashville audiences will fall a little bit in love with her and it is a match made in theatrical heaven.

Earlier this year, Grové charmed local theater-goers lucky enough to be on hand for the one-night-only performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, the annual springtime musical that highlights the efforts of Show Hope, the charity founded by Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman, which was directed and designed for the third year by Studio Tenn's Matt Logan. He takes on the same responsibilities for The Sound of Music, which culminates his theater company's first season in residence at the historic Franklin Theatre.

"I love it here," Grové says during a phone interview on her second day of rehearsals, to which she was en route as we talked. "I was here for Cinderella earlier this year and absolutely fell in love with Nashville!"

Her Cinderella experience resonated even more deeply for the actress-she and husband Dan Cooney are the proud parents of a friendly and rambunctious eight-month-old boy-because of Show Hope's dedication to helping adoptive parents and their children come together with grace.

"It was absolutely awe-inspiring," Grové remembers. "The wonderful thing about doing a benefit performance like that is that it's not about you. Show Hope is such an amazing cause and Steven and Mary Beth are such incredible, loving human beings who were so amazingly generous to us while we were here."

Working with Logan-whom she calls "such a visionary"-is making her return to Nashville even more satisfying. "We just started rehearsals yesterday [May 15]," she explains. "We worked on music and staged the first scene with the children. They are all so adorable and cute and lovely and talented. I'm really excited and Matt has a beautiful concept for the production."

She credits the birth of her son and motherhood with making her even more prepared to play Maria: "There's this whole new life experience that has matured me in a way that has made me ready for Maria."Making the transition to Maria comes just two years after Grové played Liesl for The MUNY Theatre of St. Louis. "I have not played Maria before; I've played Marta, Brigitta and Liesl, so now I'm Maria, which seems very natural, in a way. There's not really a huge age difference between Maria and Liesl, although Maria is often played older I think. In reality, I believe she was only 20 when she first came to the family."

Accompanied by her mother, who helps out with the baby ("Right now he's a screaming eight-month-old because we're driving and he just won't keep still," she laughs) while Grové is working, she has thrown herself into the process, ensuring that she's ready for the arrival of Ben Davis, her longtime friend who will be playing Georg Von Trapp.

"Ben and I go way back," she says, explaining that she met Davis when she was first cast in the Broadway production of Les Miserables-the first of five shows they've done together. "We're almost like family now."

According to Davis, it was Grové's husband (actor Dan Cooney, who's joining the Broadway company of Mamma Mia as Bill on June 4) who might have planted the seed with Logan to cast him as Captain Von Trapp. "As I understand it," Davis says, "Jessica's husband was talking to Matt about Von Trapp and he mentioned my name as someone Matt should think about."


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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.

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