First Night's Top 11 of 2011 Winners Announced at Midwinter's First Night Event


Playwright Nate Eppler, Mas Nashville's FIVE, the Boiler Room Theatre, Lipscomb University's Hairspray, ACT 1's American Buffalo and the national touring company of Memphis, the Musical were the top winners at Sunday night's Midwinter's First Night at Nashville's Keeton Theatre, which also featured the presentation of the Nashville and Tennessee theatre awards.

Eppler was feted as the First Night Award winner for Outstanding Original Work for his riveting work, Long Way Down, which featured First Night's outstanding leading actress in a play Jennifer Richmond in a production at Street Theatre Company from Johnny Peppers' 3PS Productions. FIVE, the initial cabaret offering from the five women of MAS Nashville (Erin Parker, Laura Matula, Melodie Madden Adams, Cori Laemmel and Megan Murphy Chambers) was named First Night's Outstanding Theatre Event of the Year.

Boiler Room Theatre, whose 2011 season included critically acclaimed productions of Annie Get Your Gun, Crimes of the Heart, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Rocky Horror Show, Oliver!, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and I Do, I Do!, was named as First Night's Outstanding Theatre Company of 2011.

Named as First Night's Outstanding Musical of 2011 was Lipscomb University Theatre's production of Hairspray, directed and choreographed by Justin Boccitto. ACT 1's production of American Buffalo, directed by Ryan Williams, claimed top honors as First Night's Oustanding Play of 2011, and the national touring company's Memphis, the Musical, which played Andrew Jackson Hall at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, was named as First Night's Outstanding Touring Production of 2011, besting productions of Spring Awakening, In The Heights, Wicked and Les Miserables.

With a capacity crowd of 200 people on hand at The Keeton Theatre, First Night founder and executive producer Jeffrey Ellis, who covers theater, opera and dance throughout Tennessee for, unveiled his choices via First Night's Top 11 of 2011, while the winners of the Nashville and Tennessee Theatre Awards were announced by co-hosts Britt Byrd, Jamie Free, Katherine Sandoval Taylor and Lar'Juanette Williams.

Last year, Byrd played Janet in the award-winning Boiler Room Theatre production of The Rocky Horror Show, while Williams starred as Effie Melody White in Cumberland County Playhouse's Dreamgirls. Taylor appeared in Street Theatre Company's Ragtime in Concert and Chess in Concert and will star in The Arts Center of Cannon County's upcoming Camelot. Free, a personal trainer and motivational speaker, is also an actor, model and aspiring author.

Midwinter's First Night opened with a performance by Circle Players' cast of Stephen Sondheim's Company (now onstage at The Keeton Theatre), featuring Mike Baum, Rebekah Durham, Jeff Davin, Debbie Kraski, Daron Bruce, Lynda Cameron Bayer, David Bayer, Megan Murphy Chambers, Paul J. Cook (subbing for Scott Rice, who was in rehearsal for Blackbird Theatre's upcoming Pacific Overtures), Russell Qualls and Lindsay Terrizzi Hess. They were accompanied by the show's musical director Wilhelm Peters.

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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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