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


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, Nashville Theatre Award for best actor in a musical (professional).

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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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