MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL #2: Offstage, Onstage, Backstage and Beyond With The Theaterati

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What better way to kick off Sunday-and to celebrate Father's Day!-than with the latest installment of Music City Confidential! Here's where you'll find all the news that's fit to print (or not-depending on your perspective) from Nashville's ever-growing, ever-fascinating live theater industry. Amid the florid prose and flowery praise, you'll find all the stories that don't quite fit anywhere else, some of 'em kind of gossipy, some of 'em stone-cold serious, some of 'em just lists of names you need to know. You'll also find photos from our new "Intermission@" series, details about the latest cast parties and various and sundry minutiae-the veritable flotsam and jetsam-from backstage, onstage, offstage and beyond…

Idina Menzel was in Nashville last night (Saturday, June 16), performing in The Woods Amphitheatre at Fontanel, the former estate of country music superstar Barbara Mandrell. I didn't go (more about that in the next paragraph), but we're told she was just as marvelous as expected-even though this was her third visit to Music City in 18 months. We think she and Taye need to buy a house here.  The concert was spectacular, of course, but not quite perfect, according to Lisa Marie Wright, who was nonplussed, aghast in fact, when Idina picked a guy from the audience to join her in singing a duet from Rent, only to discover he didn't know the lyrics.

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"I think he needs to turn in his membership card," LM demands. Turns out, "that guy" was none other than Spencer Dean, local actor/dancer/raconteur and high school student who is, obviously, one of our favorites. So, did Spencer really forget the words? "Maaaaaaaaaaaybe," he says (perhaps with fewer A's, but who's counting?). "I actually know them, but completely forgot that when Idina Menzel was belting an inch away from my face." At press time, it was reported that Spencer's face, which had melted off-due to a combination of Idina singing to him and the fact that it was hotter'n hell at Fontanel (which is also the name for a baby's soft spot)-has returned to its normal state, although we can only assume he is still floating on air. That's Idina and the aforementioned and self-proclaimed superfan Spencer to the left. Thanks for the photos, Spencer! You're my favorite.

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Things weren't quite so rosy for Jonathan Pinkerton, who normally takes the best pictures you'll see from live performances-because security wouldn't let him bring in his camera! Here's how Jonathan tells the story: "I was in second row, but the only problem was they wouldn't allow cameras! WTH? The website for Fontanel clearly says cameras, but no flash photography," he says. "Then one of the owners even made the announcement, no flash photography or video. After we got in and saw a few people with cameras and everyone with cell phone cameras-flash and all-Suzanne [Spooner Faulk] went back to the car to get my camera and they still wouldn't let her bring it in!" Thanks to Anthony Just for that stunning picture of Idina to the left, backed by the woods at Fontanel (and millions of ticks).

I missed Idina's performance because it was outdoors, in the heat and humidity of June in Nashville, and I didn't want to have to check for ticks afterwards. I'm nothing if not pragmatic. Instead, I was enjoying the air-conditioned comfort-and tick-free environment-of Belmont's Black Box Theatre for the third performance of boom, the season-ending production from Sideshow, the Actors Bridge Ensemble project that has brought some interesting and innovative ideas to the stage during the past year. The night proved to be great fun, in more ways than one, due to the large number of the shimmering and glittering theaterati in the audience, including director Mitch Massaro (who is also Sideshow's design director), project director Jessika  Malone, community engagement director Jackie Johnson, the cast (Hayley Rose, JP Schuffman and Amanda Meador), Nashville Children's Theatre producing artistic director Scot CopelandPatricia Taber and Daniel BrewerAmanda Card-McCoy, Evelyn O'Neal Brush, Michael Redman, Cori Laemmel and Tyson Laemmel, ArtsNash.com's Evans Donnell, Vickie Bailey, Jim Al-Shamma and CJ Tucker. There was so much hugging, European-two-cheek-bussing and ass-kissing going on, you'd have thought you were at an industry party in NYC or LA-we have to find an abbreviation for Nashville somehow; any suggestions, people? But it was a whole lot of fun, for sure!

Rehearsals start today for the cast of The Larry Keeton Theatre's upcoming production of Into the Woods, directed and choreographed by Kate Adams with musical direction by Ginger Newman naturally, and we get to tell you who all is in that show's stellar cast (the make-up of which came after a particularly heatEd Battle of the best at callbacks): Mallory Gleason stars as The Witch; with Anthony Just as The Baker; Janette Bruce as The Baker's Wife; Laura Crockarell as Cinderella;  Tonya Pewitt as Rapunzel; Jonathan Perry as Jack; Darin Richardson as Cinderella's Prince; Flynt Foster as Rapunzel's Prince; RandAl Cooper as The Wolf and The Steward; Stella London as Little Red Riding Hood; Jamie London as Cinderella's Mother/Giant; Ellie Mellen as Lucinda; Kathryn Clubb as Florida; Brian Cunningham as Narrator; and Elizabeth Hayes as Jack's Mother.

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"My native habitat is the theater –in it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theater …" So says Addison DeWitt in the timeless and still timely screenplay for the Academy Award-winning All About Eve, perhaps the best film treatment of life in the theater. Ever. This year, on Sunday, August 26, The First Night Honors will present a staged reading of Joseph L. Manckiewicz's screenplay for All About Eve, directed by Melissa Bedinger Hade and starring Rebekah Durham as Margo Channing and Britt Byrd as Eve Harrington. Others among the star-studded cast: Ross Bolen as Bill Sampson; Alice Raver as Karen Richards; Ed Amatrudo as Lloyd Richards; Memory Strong as Birdie; John Silvestro as Max Fabian; Tonya Pewitt as Miss Casswell;  and Kristi Mason as Phoebe. Completing the ensemble are Caroline Davis, Anthony Just and Lisa Marie Wright. Oh, yeah, I'm Addison DeWitt (it's called "typecasting" in the business).

To the left, you can see the Danny Proctor-designed poster for All About Eve, but pay no attention to the time and date information, that'll be announced in a couple of weeks, but we couldn't wait for you to get a glimpse of the old-style Hollywood glamor Danny is capturing in his poster art! Besides, Danny was a 2011 First Night Honoree and deserves all the recognition and notoreity he gets!

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How about Under the Streetlamp? Did you catch their show at TPAC's PolkTheatre last Thursday night? It was terrific-and Michael Ingersoll, Michael Cunio, Shonn Wiley and Christopher Kale Jones delivered the goods for sure in two hours of exceptional showmanship, engaging their audience from start to finish. But you know what really impressed me? After the show was over, the four sat down behind tables to sign autographs, to pose for photos and to meet and greet every breathless member of the audience. "We'll be the last to leave the theater when it's all over," they promised from the stage and, sure enough, they stayed until everylast  fan got their time under the streetlamp, as it were. The accompanying photo of Cunio is for my pal Memory Strong, who fell in love with him during the course of the concert.

But what about the-how do we put this nicely?-drunk queen who stalked the stage toward the end of the show and who was graciously attended to by Chris Jones to keep him from climbing up onstage to do whatever it was he was thinking about doing…well, it was the same guy who sang along, loudly and very badly, with the cast of The Color Purple (and let me tell you that Allison Semmes and company really didn't need his help whatsoever) the last time they played Jackson Hall, and who talked out loud throughout both shows. Lucky me, at Under the Streetlamp, he was seated on the row behind me while at The Color Purple, he was four people to my right.

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Rick Malkin sends along another snapshot of the "enjoyed it" line at Boiler Room Theatre's next to normal from last Tuesday night's (June 12) performance, featuring Neely O'Brien Green, Megan Murphy Chambers (Diana Goodman), Ben Van Diepen (The Doctors), Corbin Green and Mike Baum (Dan Goodman).

HEY, JEF! I've been meaning to tell you... we were watching the Tonys, and when the camera cut to a close-up shot of the audience, my daughter Claudia says, "Wow! Jeffrey Ellis is there!" I had looked away for a sec, so I rewound it (it was DVR'd), and saw that the person she mistook for you was Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Thought you might like hearing that she totally assumed that you would have a third-row aisle seat at the Tonys!-Jennifer Bennett

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WHAT I'M DOING THIS SUMMER: We sent out the call to some of our favorite young actors, asking them to fill us in on what they're doing this summer-since they're spread all across the USA sharing their talents with audiences from California to the Carolinas. Think of it as a very brief, and to-the-point, essay about their upcoming summer vacation...Here's the scoop from Daniel Collins, Anastasia Teel, Tony Nappo, Faith Kelm and Taylor Casey:

Daniel Collins: I am in Medora, North Dakota, doing the greatest show in the west:  the Medora Musical and I am a Burning Hills Singer. I started the show June 8th and I perform every night all summer until September 8.

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Anastasia Teel: I'm in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, outside Amarillo (the second largest canyon in the country!)...I'm in Texas Outdoor Musical Drama in the middle of the canyon and I'm playing Elsie McLean. I'm in Texas until August 18! [Last summer, you might remember that Anastasia starred in The Theater Bug's The Most Amazing Anything of Evertime! Our girl has grown up, Nashville!]

Antonio P. Nappo here:  I'm performing as Amos Hart in Chicago the musical, at McLeod Summer Playhouse here in Carbondale, Illinois. The show opens the 6th of July and runs till the 15th. I'll be back in Nashville on the 18th, and then, I'm doing Aida with Circle Players playing the Pharaoh and understudying Zozar. That opens in August, though I'm not exactly sure when, and that's my summer!

Faith Elizabeth Abbey Kelm is in Hershey, Pennsylvania (aka the sweetest place on earth!), I am doing a country variety show called Wild Country at Hershey Park. I am a lead singer/dancer.  I'm here for the whole summer! My contract ends in mid-September!

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Taylor Casey is also at Hershey Park, performing in Tap The Show, "and I'm male vocalist, opposite the beautiful Stephanie Jones Benton! My contract ends at the end of September!"

Unsolicited advice for people who run theater companies: It might not be such a good idea to use the words "we're almost sold out" before you've actually sold out the house. "Why?" you ask. Simple, I reply: You may be discouraging people from taking a chance on getting tickets-and we all know that in Nashville, unless a ticket has been paid for, there's a 75% chance the audience member who made that reservation won't show up. So, unless you have the money in hand, use phrases like "tickets are selling fast!" Seems like when companies say they're almost sold out, people decide it's too much trouble to try to squeeze into a show, particularly on closing weekends. And for Christ's sake, don't Tweet or post on Facebook phrases like "this place is packed" when I'm in the audience and very clearly can see otherwise. I don't want to call you out, but the clock is ticking…

With all the local theater companies announcing their upcoming seasons, I began to wonder what are some of the shows local theaterati would like to see performed and so we issued a call for suggestions. And the answers we got back were kind of surprising-not because we didn't recognize the titles, but primarily because we weren't all that shocked by most of the ideas. My gentle suggestion was that the show shouldn't have been done very recently and I urged them, ever so graciously and politely, to remember that if I didn't see it, it never really happened. In the sense of full disclosure, I thought you should know the rules of the game. So here are some of the suggestions-what do you think?

Angela Gimlin: Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Molly Breen: I so much want someone to do this musical: Meet John Doe, a new musical based on the film by Frank Capra.

Matthew Hayes Hunter: bare: A Pop Opera

Daryl Pike:  That Championship Season hasn't been done here that I know of, and even though Circle Players did a production of Dancing at Lughnasa in the 1990s, I'd love to do another one.

Maryanna Clarke, producing artistic director of Tennessee Women's Theater Project: A little gem of a musical called Sleeping Beauty Wakes.

Johnny Peppers: L'il Abner

Michael Adcock: Some of these may have been done, but not to my knowledge: Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, Jason Robert Brown's Songs For a New World, Edges, Homemade Fusion, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Assassins, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, A Class Act…and plenty mo'!

Elena Alexandraki: I'd love to see The Illusion done. That's a cool, very creepy play.

Erin Spencer: I've always wanted to do Our Town, but it's probably been too much; I've just never seen it.

Daryl Pike: Naked Boys Singing.

Halee Culicerto: Has anyone done Coast of Utopia? [No, says Mr. Know-it-all]

Thomas Carlton: Haven't seen Barnum done in a while, but we lived out of state for a few years and have three kids, so very likely I missed it. Speaking of, my kids (all girls) would love to see any of the Disney stage performances, assuming royalties don't make it impossible.

Robert Stone: Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.

Michael Adcock (again): A New Brain and Parade (*ducks things thrown by Jef just in case*).

Jeffrey Ellis: Boiler Room Theatre is doing Parade this fall, you idiot. Don't you read all this crap I write?

This exchange precipitated an embarrassing bitch-slap kinda fight on The Book of Face for which we (Michael and I) were sent to the penalty box (as we attempt to mix metaphors and to figure out why so many actors and ballet dancers love hockey so damn much-seriously Jon Upleger, Christopher Stuart, Eddie Mikrut and all those other Nashville Ballet stars love 'em some pucking)! That sounds sort of dirty, doesn't it? Well, what can you do?

Nancy Allen: The Light in the Piazza and A Little Night Music!

Howard Snyder: Da, I'm Not Rappaport, Children of a Lesser God, Driving Miss Daisy

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Kim Thornton Nygren: The House of Blue Leaves. I have the perfect cast in mind. I'm Bunny, of course.

Rachael Parker: Andrew Lippa's Wild Party, 1776, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Noises Off, The Secret Garden, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Importance of Being Earnest-those are a few I think of off the top of my head.

David Arnold: Since you asked…I'd like to see someone do Camelot and I'd like to be in it!

Nathan D. Owen: Bright Lights, Big City, Sunday in the Park With George (anything Sondheim, actually), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 1776, The Pirates of Penzance, [title of show] and A Man for All Seasons

Bonnie Keen: I agree with Nancy AllenA Little Night Music and The Light in the Piazza.

Maggie Pitt: Pygmalion and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Granted, I can't vouch for any productions staged around here more than five years ago…

Kate Adams: Eastern Standard. I would list musicals but that would be telling…

Lane Wright: I second A New Brain. And I would love to see The Most Happy Fella done well, as well.

Brian Russell: The Pain and The Itch, The Seafarer, Keely and Du, Bach in Leipzig and most anything by Fugard.

Brian Russell: Oh…and Angels in America!

Michael Kitts: City of Angels.

Eric Crawford: Smoke and Mirrors.

Spencer Dean: La Cage Aux Folles…well, recently it hasn't been done here. [What Mr. Dean fails to explain is that I directed La Cage Aux Folles, legendarily, in 1999.]

Will Butler: Equus.

Next time, we'll give you the list of shows no one ever wants to see again-and we'll reveal a big surprise about the one show most overdone in the Nashville area, after which we will enter the federal witness relocation program.

MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL #2: Offstage, Onstage, Backstage and Beyond With The Theaterati

This week marks the world premiere of The Airship at Vapor Station-The Steampunk Musical, a new musical with book and lyrics by Carolyn German and music by Rollie Mains (with German directing and choreographing and Mains music directing), opening at The Z. Alexander Looby Theatre and running June 22-30. Joy Tilley Perryman reports: "We are fully staging the new show that Carolyn and Rollie wrote. It is a spectacle! Really, the set is amazing and, frankly, I think my costumes kick ass: I had to do mine without using weapons or being sexy! Really it should be fun to look at-and I am quite enamored of the song that closes Act One."

From Chambers Stevens (who left an indelible mark on local theater as an actor/director/ playwright/producer/jack-of-all-trades and co-founded Nashville Shakespeare Festival 25 years ago before moving to Los Angeles, where he's made his presence felt ever since) comes this news: "Twenty years ago my first play was produced successfully in L.A. But when I tried to get it published all of the big companies rejected it. So a real tiny company published it instead. Well, last week that little company got bought by Dramatist Play Service! And here is the new edition published by the giant Dramatist!"

MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL #2: Offstage, Onstage, Backstage and Beyond With The Theaterati

Legally Blonde The Musical opens Friday, July 6, running through July 21, at The Arts Center of Cannon County, starring Lindsay Mapes as Elle Woods! Okay, I have to admit a bias: I directed Lindsay in her first role in Gypsy (she was understudy for Baby June and the Balloon Girl in Uncle Jocko's Kiddie Show) and have known ever since-it was 2001-that she was destined for greatness and now that she's all grown up, she's proving me even more prescient and, I daresay, brilliant than I ever knew possible. According to our "source inside the company," aka Matthew Hayes Hunter: "We've all been working super hard already, and things are only going to get better! A fantastic rehearsal today- the band sounds great, the choreography looks stellar, the actors are wonderful, and you all know you want to come see Bruiser!" Reserve your tickets today by visiting www.artscenterofcc.com or by calling (615) 563-2787 or (800) 235-9073...this much fun shouldn't be legal! 

So what did we miss? If there's something we need to cover, be sure to email us with a heads-up...and look for Music City Confidential #3, coming up on Thursday, June 21!

Original artwork for Music City Confidential created by Michael Adcock; to see more of his work, go to http://cargocollective.com/toragami

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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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