First Night's Top Ten of 2010: Nashville's Best Actors in a Musical

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Ten versatile and talenTed Nashville area men took on roles in musical theater that other actors would love to play, proving once again that country music isn't the only genre that makes this Music City USA. Musical theater is alive and well in Tennessee and with the plethora of talent to be found on Volunteer State stages, actors can display their tremendous range while singing and dancing. These men comprise the list of the ten best performances by actors in musicals in 2010...

  • Daniel Black, She Loves Me, Cumberland County Playhouse, Crossville. The play's sprightly staged and quickly paced action focuses on the amusing interactions of the people who work (and shop) at Maraczek's Parfumerie. Among them are shop manager Georg Nowack (Daniel Black) and newly arrived clerk Amalia Balish (Nicole Begue) whose obvious disdain for each other clearly masks deeper and definitely more affectionate feelings. Black is at his most charming as Georg, exuding charisma with every movement and throughout his carefully measured reading of the role. His performance of "She Loves Me" is clearly one of the show's most memorable and engaging moments. Black's palpable chemistry with the beautiful Begue as Amalia is sweetly compelling - and just a joy to behold.

  • Ryan Bowie, Into the Woods, Roxy Regional Theatre, Clarksville. truth be told, it is the men of the cast who really bowl you over with their superb voices and on-target acting choices. Although Bowie looks a bit young to play the Baker, he does so with such vigor and commitment that it is admirable - and definite foreshadowing of what might be expected from him later in his career. He has a strong voice, and an even stronger stage presence, that breathes fire and life into his scriptbound character, and his duets with Heather Stricker-Dispensa are genuinely heartfelt. Clearly, the Baker is the star of this production of Into the Woods.

  • Jeff Boyet, Seussical the Musical, Nashville Children's Theatre. If there is a more charming Cat in the Hat than Jeff Boyet, I can't imagine who it might be. In Nashville Children's Theatre's production of the Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens musical, Seussical, Boyet and a team of supremely talenTed Nashville actors deliver what may well be the definitive version of the wildly popular show. Boyet displays his enormous range and versatility as the lynchpin of the Seussian world: The Cat in the Hat. Boyet uses every trick up his sleeve to create a memorable portrayal, singing with confidence, dancing with abandon and generally etching a unforgettable picture in your mind that is every bit as vivid as your earliest memories of Dr. Seuss' character.

  • Daron Bruce, Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre. Much of the cast of last Christmas' A Sanders Family Christmas returns to the stage as the Sanders family, including Daron Bruce as patriarch Burl. The "homecoming" at the heart of this musical - the third of a down-home flavored trilogy about the Sanders family, in particular, and closely knit Southern families, in general - is something every small-town Southerners can easily recognize. Filled with hymns and humor, brought to expressive musical life by the supremely talented cast, and overflowing with an abundance of sentiment, joy and faith, Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming is like a trip back home, to a simpler time that is rich in all the things we tend to take for granted. Bruce is warm and winning as Burl, his musicality and demeanor artfully blending to recreate his character.

  • Britt Hancock, Brigadoon, Cumberland County Playhouse, Crossville. Brigadoon could well be one of the closest-to-sheer-perfection musical theater experiences I've ever had, beautifully played and exquisitely staged, performed by a phenomenally gifted cast led by the multi-talented Britt Hancock (who sings, act and dances with vigorous conviction) as Tommy Albright. There comes a moment during "Almost Like Being In Love," here performed by the triple threat Hancock and his lovely leading lady, Lindy Pendzick, that is as rapturous and as emotionally satisfying as any we can recall. If you hear it, you may find yourself (as did I) overwhelmed by its beauty, Hancock and Pendzick's performance so ethereal than you cannot help but be totally transfixed. Each of Hancock and Pendzick's duets is memorable, including "The Heather on the Hill" and the anthemic "From This Day On," and Hancock's "There But For You Go I" is stunningly delivered. The matinee idol-handsome Hancock leads the cast with grace and aplomb, his intensely felt portrayal finely matched with Pendzick as Fiona. Winner, BroadwayWorld.com Nashville Theatre Award for best actor in a musical (professional).

  • Bakari Jamal King, Big River, Tennessee Repertory Theatre. Bakari King gives such a winning performance as Jim Tennessee Rep's revival of Roger Miller's multiple Tony Award-winning Big River that they alone are enough to entice audiences to TPAC's Johnson Theatre for a re-sampling, if you will, of this particularly American musical. King's heartfelt and beautifully sung portrayal of the runaway slave Jim places him on the very same plateau as Patrick Waller as Huck Finn, and watching the two men interact with each other and hearing them perform the score's gorgeous anthems to the mighty Mississippi River ("Muddy Water" and "River in the Rain") is worth the price of multiple tickets. Further, King's performance rings with a blend of both authenticity and integrity, making the injustices of society's view of the slave in 19th century America all the more compellingly horrifying. When Jim talks of his children (particularly of his realization that his daughter Elizabeth had been rendered deaf and dumb by a virulent case of scarlet fever) you cannot help but be moved - something that is credited in equal parts to Hauptman's treatment of Twain's work and King's excellent interpretation.

  • Ciaran McCarthy, Nine, Boiler Room Theatre, Franklin. Ciaran McCarthy gives such a stunningly raw and beautifully nuanced performance as film director Guido Contini in Boiler Room Theatre's production of Nine that it would be easy to lavish praise on him and leave it at that. But he is surrounded by a cast of women (and one very talented young man) who are wonderfully cast and who deliver performances that match McCarthy's in intensity and artistry. McCarthy is ideally cast as Guido, his perfectly honed dramatic technique exhibited at its zenith in his portrayal of the multi-faceted Guido, who is - at once - both cad and choirboy. McCarthy walks that fine line with the confidence of an actor absolutely certain of his abilities. His performance lacks any false notes or artifice: He becomes Guido with an easy grace that he wears comfortably. McCarthy's uncanny ability to lose himself in the role is nothing less than astonishing - he commands the stage with aplomb and candor, yet he is generous to his coterie of co-stars (particularly in his scenes with Corrie Miller as his long-suffering wife, Jessica Heim as his sultry mistress, and Ashley Anderson-McCarthy as his soulmate), providing the perfect foil for their onstage histrionics.

  • Scott Rice, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Street Theatre Company. Clearly, Scott Rice's William Barfee (pronounced "bar-FAY" not "BAR-fee") is the star of the ensemble, using his "magic foot" to spell out his words (which would make Phi Beta Kappas keel over in desperation) while delivering a tour-de-force comic performance. His late-in-the-second-act confession that he's been spelling with a handicap (he's only able to breathe through one nostril) is outlandishly funny, but somehow sweet and compelling, thanks to Rice's superb timing and completely confident portrayal. The William Barfee-led "Magic Foot" number is probably the evening's best musical offering, featuring the entire cast in full-out Chorus Line wedge showmanship.

  • Benjamin Van Diepen, Rent, Boiler Room Theatre, Franklin. Van Diepen's sensitive portrayal of Mark Cohen, the budding cinematographer/videographer at the center of this updated version of La Boheme, is multi-dimensional, the character's inherent sweetness underscored by a healthy cynicism that prevents Mark from becoming cloying or predictable. Van Diepen's onstage pairing with Ciaran McCarthy (who plays Mark's roommate Roger, an aspiring and HIV-positive musician) is noteworthy - not just because the two played Jesus and Judas, respectively, in last year's Jesus Christ Superstar at the same venue - but because the two men are so dynamic onstage. Van Diepen's relative coolness balances perfectly against McCarthy's more tightly coiled energy to create tension that guarantees success. (Note to BRT's Messrs. Green: Someone should stage a production of Kiss of the Spider Woman with these two exceptional young men - with JoAnn Coleman as the perfect Aurora - sooner rather than later.) Watching Van Diepen and McCarthy onstage - whether together or separately - is nothing short of rapturous: Each man is surprising and compelling, seemingly unable to give a performance that is not inspiring and mesmerizing.

  • Patrick Waller, john and jen, 3PS Productions. Waller, charming and self-assured from his very first moment onstage, effectively plays John at every stage of life. Certainly, his chemistry with co-star Martha Wilkinson is palpable, drawing the audience into their shared intimacies. When Act One comes to its cataclysmic and not unexpected denouement (for this story to succeed on so many emotional levels, the first stanza could only end as written by Lippa and Greenwald - unfortunately, it's telegraphed to you in the early going which might be disconcerting to some theatre-goers), you find yourself fighting back the emotions you're feeling, tears stinging your eyes. Clearly, the script is somewhat manipulative in this respect, but more likely your emotional investment is because of the beautiful interactions of Waller and Wilkinson. Act Two finds Jen welcoming her own baby boy, named for her beloved brother John. Much of the action in the second stanza closely mirrors that of Act One and it allows the audience to become accustomed to Waller playing another character who is very much like Jen's beloved brother, yet somehow completely different. The end of the second act, which closes the play, ultimately is as moving as the end of the first act - but for obviously different reasons.

Pictured: Patrick Waller

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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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