MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL #3: Onstage, Offstage, Backstage and Beyond With The Theaterati

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Summer's here, and it's hotter than blue blazes in Tennessee, as theater companies from one end of the state to the other are hard at work to keep audiences engaged and entertained throughout what promises to be one long hot summer. But think of it this way, with yesterday's Summer Solstice-which means we've survived the year's longest day-everything will get just a little bit shorter, promising a respite from the heat and humidity.

This week also marked the celebration of NationAl Martini Day, so may we humbly suggest that you grab a shaker, add some ice, vodka and a whisper of vermouth and shake yourself up an ice-cold drink…and read today's installment of Music City Confidential…it's #3 and we'll see you again on Sunday with #4, filled with even more of the scoop from onstage, offstage, backstage and beyond…

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The Renaissance Players' Bye Bye Birdie closed last Sunday at Dickson's Renaissance Center, and apparently Nathan W. Brown and Bryan Wlas were really cracking the whip during strike. As evidence, may we present the photo at left, showing Genesis Crnolatas, Rachel Jackson, Stephanie Wright and Logan Steinbarge collapsed on the stage. Apparently, Messrs. Brown and Wlas know nothing about child labor laws.

From Metro Arts and NowPlayingNashville.com comes this fast-breaking story: They are partnering to offer an enhanced artist directory service for Middle Tennessee. The Artist Profile Directory hosted on NowPlayingNashville.com will replace Metro Arts' Artist Registry and offers singers, songwriters, visual artists, poets, performers and musicians the opportunity to create a profile in the directory with bios, photos, contact information and more. Artists can even link to their events on the NowPlayingNashville.com calendar to inform the public of their activities. Artists are encouraged to create a profile today. Additionally, free training sessions will be offered for artists to learn about the directory. The sessions are set for Thursday, June 21, at 9 a.m.; Tuesday, June 26, at 5 p.m.; and Wednesday, June 27 at 2 p.m. It's a great idea and both Metro Arts and NowPlayingNashville.com are to be commended, but training sessions? Really? Maybe I'm just too jaded for my own good, but I find that sort of funny. And if I were an artist-which I'm not, we all know that-I'd volunteer for a root canal before going to a training session to learn how to post a profile. I hope they serve snacks.

Rhetorical Question of the Day: Katy Perry the Movie. Really? I'm sure you're all flocking to this feel-good hit of the summer. Perhaps a group rate is available.

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Say it ain't so, KC! After news filtered out last weekend that Kristin Chenoweth's concerts in Chicago and Minneapolis had been canceled due to her illness, I warned local fans to keep their ears to their ground, they noses to the grindstone (which sounds kind of painful, actually) just in case her Wednesday night date with Music City had to be postponed. And sure enough, on midday Tuesday a press release was sent out by TPAC's Tony Marks with the news that KC wouldn't be able to make it on Wednesday; rescheduling her performance for Thursday, June 28. That meant my night out with Kate Adams was royally screwed (the homegrown diva's otherwise engaged on June 28), and that young Alyssa Runyeon's birthday present from her mom and dad (Linda Sue Simmons and Ron Runyeon) wouldn't happen. "I'm going to have one very sad and disappointed little girl tomorrow," Linda Sue told me on Tuesday night. "And we won't be in town next week for the concert on the 28th."

And Patrick Eytchison, who played Billy Bigelow in Christ Presbyterian Academy's production of Carousel this spring--and who helped to change my mind about high school theater--won't be able to make next week's show either. Next week, Patrick and his family will be in Annapolis where he'll officially become part of the United State Navy as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. Wonder if we could get KC to give him a call? Ideas, please, people!

Of course, it's always fun until someone gets hurt: On Tuesday night, the multi-award-winning Nashville Symphony Orchestra was at Centennial Park to perform a program of Shakespeare-inspired music, featuring the famed balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, starring Emily Landham and Matthew Raich, who played the starcrossed lovers in last summer's mounting from Nashville Shakespeare Festival. According to Emily, just before the evening got under way, Shannon Hoppe, with centuries of theatrical lore and legend backing her up, told her to "break a leg." Apparently, Emily took Shannon's exhortation way too seriously, falling just as the scene started. As a result, her right leg was broken in three places. Happily, Emily reported: "We finished the scene." Ah, theater.

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This Sunday night-June 24-ACT 1 hosts its third annual gala to celebrate the 2011-12 Season and to say thank you to volunteers and patrons at Raz'z Restaurant, 2241 Murfreesboro Pike from 6 to 9 p.m. A limited menu is available and there's a cash bar, along with complimentary appetizers, according to board chair Melissa Bedinger Hade. For reservations, call (615) 726-2281 (they need to know how many people are coming to know how many chicken fingers to order, we presume). "About four years ago the ACT 1 Board had a retreat to talk about how to build an ACT 1 community," Melissa explains. "Of course, as with every company performing out of the Darkhorse space, we have issues with branding. The branding issues not only affect our presentation to the Nashville community, but it was also impacting our branding with artists who worked with us. There was a nomadic quality from one play to the next without any connection to the company as a whole."

So they brainstormed and came up with ways they can change that dynamic, one of which is the summer gala: "We already had a yearly company picnic that continues to this day," Melissa says. "The board decided to make the picnic a kick-off for our seasons rather than an end-of-season event. We decided to add a special even that would thank our artists and award them for their service." To avoid "Best of…" awards, ACT 1's board chose instead to present a "Most Valuable Player Award" given to someone from each production from the previous season. The MVP is nominated from the cast and crew of each show-they are asked to nominate two people who go above and beyond in their work on the project and prove themselves to be "good stewards" of ACT 1, as well as "excellent ambassadors of theater to the community at large."

The other award created was an "Outstanding Service to ACT 1" award, with the first one going to Sue Stinemetz, whose name is now officially attached to the honor-The Sue Stinemetz Service Award. Two members of the ACT 1 family have received the award since Stinemetz, including Brian Hill for his eight year tenure as executive director, and to Maggi Bowden for her "exceptional contribution to ACT 1 and the theater community at large as a producer, artist and friend of theater." Finally, Melissa says that awards expressing "Special Thanks From the ACT 1 Board" are presented to friends of the company who ensure that ACT 1 continues to thrive.

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This weekend also marks the departure from Nashville of actor/director/raconteur/all-around charming guy Alan Lee, who is returning to his home state of Louisiana in search of more film work. "There's just no film work available in Tennessee," Alan concedes, explaining that he hopes to be back for visits-and who knows?-he might make his home here again someday. Alan leaving us points out the difficulty actors and other theater/film artists have making a living in a right-to-work state, particularly given the scarcity of paid gigs in the Volunteer State. "Paid gigs," as in paying a living wage. It's appalling how many theater companies call themselves "professional" yet pay less than is required to even cover gas to and from rehearsal. Alan's graceful presence among the theaterati will be sorely missed in Nashville, as will his estimable skills onstage. Throughout his career here, he has distinguished himself as a gentleman of high regard, one whose courtly manner, ready wit and winning smile will ensure he is thought about often-and, in many ways, it seems to mark the end of an era: That's the vital role played by Alan Lee in the lives of all of us who consider ourselves part of the theaterati.

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You have to give credit to Danny Proctor, the man's got talent-both onstage and off-and once again he has provided some gorgeous artwork for The First Night Honors 2012, including his posters for our production of Follies in Concert, set for Monday, August 27. Follies in Concert features Weslie Webster (of the Cumberland County Playhouse Websters) will sing the role of Sally, with Britt Hancock (just back from a year-long tour of the provinces in Young Frankenstein and opening this week in The Music Man up in Crossville) as Buddy. Nashville's sweetheart-is there any better way to describe her?-Bonnie Keen (Studio Tenn's Cinderella I and II, among a list of credits that are as long as Bonnie is tall, as well as the founder of First Call, the award-winning trio, and her two-woman show with Nan Gurley called Women Who Dare) will play Phyllis, with the handsome Matt Baugher (Street Theatre Company's Ragtime and Boiler Room Theatre's Annie Get Your Gun are just two of his most recent credits) as Ben Stone. Others in the cast include the aforementioned Nan Gurley, Brenda Frye, Katherine Sandoval Taylor, Warren Langworthy and a whole slew of local stars.

And speaking of The First Night Honors: We will be announcing the names of our 2012 Honorees and Most Promising Actors in late July, just in time to get you all revved up about the excitement ahead, leading up to the First Night Gala on Sunday, September 2 (which is my birthday…forget that at your own peril-fair warning…)

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Who's up for a road trip to Clarksville? Okay, it's a really short road trip (since Clarksville is less than an hour from Music city)…but how can you possibly miss Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen Schwartz at the Roxy Regional Theatre, which runs for two weekends only, beginning June 29 and continuing through July 7, at the historic venue in downtown Clarksville. Presented as a companion piece to the Roxy's current musical Captain Louie, which was also composed by Schwartz, Defying Gravity features songs from Wicked, Godspell, Pippin, Rags and more, performed by company members Josh Bernaski, Jama Bowen, Ryan Bowie, Hannah Church, Kaitlin Doughty, Regan Featherstone, Humberto Figueroa, Erin Keas, Travis Kendrick, Ashley Laverty, Sean Ormond and Rob Rodems, with Tom Thayer on piano. This musical revue is presented as part of the Roxy's "On The Terrazzo" Series, which sounds really extra-fancy and features performances in the intimate setting of the theatre's lobby. A limited number of tables and chairs will be available, and seating is general admission. Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen Schwartz plays four nights only: June 29, June 30, July 6 and July 7 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 (including a beverage) or $30 for both the 6 p.m. performance of Captain Louie and the 8 p.m. musical revue. Reservations are available online via www.roxyregionaltheatre.org, by phone at (931) 645-7699, or at the theatre during regular box office hours (9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, and one hour prior to curtain).

THIS JUST IN FROM THE NEWSROOM:  Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch has told reporters across the pond that he hopes to play Hamlet in the West End within a couple of years (and by West End, we don't mean that street that runs by the Parthenon). Who's up for a road trip to London? I've got connections.

Speaking of the Parthenon and Shakespeare (how's that for a segue-or, as we in the journalism game call it-transition?), director (and producing artistic director of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival) Denice Hicks and her stellar cast of Much Ado About Nothing will be hard at work on bringing their musicalized version of one of Shakespeare's finest to the stage of the Centennial Park bandshell later this summer. Evelyn O'Neal Brush leads a stellar cast as Beatrice.

WHAT I'M DOING THIS SUMMER, The Sequel: 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. Here's the scoop:

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Calvin David Malone is in Bigfork, Montana: "I'm performing at Bigfork Summer Playhouse, playing Dick/Ensemble in 9 to 5: The Musical, Constable Locke/Ensemble in The Music Man, Jason in High School Musical, and I'm playing the lead-Joe Hardy-in Damn Yankees. The recent Belmont University Musical Theatre grad's contract runs May 13 to August 26.

Casey Hebbel is in Santa Rosa, California, this summer (it's about an hour north of San Francisco), performing at the Summer Repertory Theatre. "In a full rotating repertory, I am playing Kate Monster in Avenue Q, Calliope in Xanadu and Nickie in Sweet Charity. I got here on May 25 and will be here until August 13, after which I will be starting a short, two-week contract with a new theater company called Transcendence Theatre in Jack London State Park in Sonoma, California.

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Elliott Cunningham finds himself in Fort Collins, Colorado, for the summer, "at the Midtown Arts Center, playing Brad in Hairspray. We opened on June 8 and run until September 2, then it's back to New York City."

Last time we asked theaterati to share with us their "dream shows"-the ones they'd love to see produced, new titles we haven't seen 5,000 times in the past three years-and, boy howdy, did they let us know their choices. So then we asked, "What five shows do you have no desire whatsoever to see done in the next year or so?" Forget that only a handful of people actually listed five shows (for fear, we suspect, that they'll be cast in said shows next week probably and don't want to appear too awfully hypocritical…), they came up with a list of shows that make their skin crawl (at the present time; theater folk are anything if not capricious)…read on, gentle readers…

Jaz Dorsey: Hairspray. Hairspray. Hairspray. Hairspray. And Hairspray.

Michael Adcock: Godspell, Our Town, Hairspray, Evita, Hairspray, Oklahoma and Hairspray for being done too often. Evita is bore for me. And Our Town, for being both.

Anthony Just: To Kill a Mockingbird. Seriously, it's been done.

Martha Stephens: Annie. Never again.

Patrick Kramer: The Music Man, Smoke on the Mountain, South Pacific, Smoke on the Mountain, Hairspray and Smoke on the Mountain…Guys and Dolls, Smoke on the Mountain, The Miracle Worker…

Joy Tilley Perryman: Grease, The Rocky Horror Show and anything involving the Futrelle sisters (I loved playing Twink, but really, give it a rest).

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Tim Larson: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.

Lane Wright: I have no desire to see Grease. Ever.

Kate Adams: Grease, Smoke on the Mountain, Annie, Flower Drum Song, Nutcracker the Musical.

Clay Hillwig: See How They Run.

Roy H. Wilhite Jr.: Annie, Grease, Godspell…

John Kennerly: Grease, ever! Annie and Li'l Abner…ugh!

Bob Fish: Driving Miss Daisy, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Homecoming (not Pinter's) and anything involving the Sanders family.

Logan Huber: Fame the Musical, 13, Annie, Cinderella and Camelot.

 

Kellye Mitchell: Steel Magnolias, Hairspray, Seussical the Musical.

Eric Ventress: Hairspray.

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Katherine Sandoval Taylor: Annie, Hairspray.

Halee-Catherine Culicerto (at left): Fela…longest few hours of my life.

Interestingly, we didn't specify that only musicals should be included, but that's the way it went in our unscientific, purely social networking survey. But, perhaps now is the perfect time to announce that at least a part of Hairspray will be revived in Music City later this year! After a fashion, of course, and with a different twist.

In fact, "You Can't Stop the Beat," the rousing closing number from that wonderful musical (yes, even after seven productions in less than two years, I still love the show-but really don't need to see it again) will be the finale at this year's First Night Honors Gala on Sunday, September 2. Kate Adams will choreograph and we will feature representatives from all the productions in Nashville from the past couple of years. It will knock your socks off and we will send Hairspray off to that big ol' theater in the sky…until someone decides to do it next season. 

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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