MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL #4: Onstage, Offstage, Backstage and Beyond With the Theaterati

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It's supposed to be 108 degrees in the Nashville area by week's end, which means stepping outside will likely leave you melted, quite literally and figuratively.

But if you do have to venture out of doors, perhaps a trip to the theater is a good idea…it'll be dark and cool (with any luck, the AC will be working-and you know which theaters we're talking about) and you'll be entertained, perhaps even transported to another world. Or not.

In the meantime, we present you with installment number four of Music City Confidential-our continuing effort to create a sense of community and build up some enthusiasm and excitement for the live theater industry here in our alarmingly sweaty region. So, press on, gentle readers and catch up on the latest adventures of the theaterati…

The Sophie Shines benefit concert was a complete and total sell-out on Monday night, June 25-headlined by Vince Gill, Amy Grant, The Smoking Section, Mike Eldred, Melinda Doolittle, Mandisa and so many other generous performers-honoring the spirit of Sophia Salveson, the 19-year-old Nashville actress and college student who suffered a stroke last March and who now is in the midst of a miraculous recovery, spurred on by the support of her family-both birth and extended-and friends who've rallied around her since the stroke. Third & Lindsley was packed to the rafters, we're told, and the entire evening was inspiring and entertaining (and more than a little fun!). Among the highlights: Vince Gill reading a letter to Sophie from Jennifer Aniston.

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"The Sophie Shines Concert was amazing!" exclaims Daron Bruce, Sophie's mentor and theater teacher at Hume-Fogg Academic High School in Nashville. "The performances were stellar...each one a show stopper. Sophie looked beautiful and had wonderful time with her friends. Her beauty and spirit radiates where ever she goes."

Sophie Salveson and Daron Bruce are pictured to the left.

Kristin Chenoweth brings her national tour to TPAC's Andrew Jackson Hall this Thursday night and all of Music City is abuzz with anticipation. But there are those folks who had tickets for the original date (Wednesday, June 20) who will be unable to attend the rescheduled performance. However, just proving how utterly devoted she is to her fans (and as a favor to yours truly), KC (who is my very favorite person ever in the history of the world!) will make it up to at least one of them on Wednesday. Although we'd love to let the cat out of the bag, we can't yet, but rest assured I'll be trumpeting the news as soon as I know the deed has been done!

Congratulations are due Carolyn German and Rollie Mains on their new musical The Airship at Vapor Station, a steampunk musical for younger actors, which had its premiere at The Z. Alexander Looby Theatre last weekend and continues this weekend with a cast of 30 younger actors. Carolyn directs and choreographs (did we notice a certain Newsies-inspired number?) and Rollie music directs so you know the production is on firm footing and the cast is led by Elizabeth Cameron, Kristen Large, Stella London, Karissa Wheeler, Mackenzie Roberts, Morigan Corbitt, Maddie Mae Cartwright, Caitlin Dobbins, Phillip Baker, Tyler Bond, Tre Dickerson, Ben Pate and Jack Williams, who very nearly steals the show out from under the 29 pals he's sharing the stage with! Joy Tilley Perryman provides the gorgeously eye-popping costumes and Kirk Brown is responsible for the lighting and set design. Rollie's score is impressive and tuneful, but Carolyn's book could do with some tightening (a subplot about love and romance seems superfluous and confusing) and the sound design needs tweaking (otherwise, words and lyrics tend to be lost). It remains, however, an impressive undertaking and the things Carolyn is able to get from her students are truly remarkable.

With Jerry Lewis and company headed to Nashville for the premiere of Rupert Holmes and Marvin Hamlisch's The Nutty Professor Musical, which will take its first steps toward a planned Broadway run via the stage of the James K. Polk Theatre at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (it opens July 24 and continues through August  19), everyone's been wondering who's in the cast. Well, here goes...

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Leading man Michael Andrew (who will play Professor Julius Kelp and Buddy Love in the tuner) has been attached to the project for several years now, and word comes that the rest of the cast has been signed, including KLea Blackhurst as Miss Lemon; Mark Jacoby as Dr. Warfield/Murry/Maury/Bartender; Marissa McGowan (that's her to the left) as Stella Purdy; and Jamie Ross as Harrington Winslow. Comprising the ensemble will be Alex David, Meghan Glogower (a recent alum of the Belmont University Musical Theatre program), Blair Goldberg, Autumn Guzzardi, Sarah Marie Jenkins, Allison Little, Charles MacEachern, Lindsay Moore, Ronnie Nelson, Patrick O'Neill, Dominique Plaisant, Carly Blake Sebouhian, Jason Sparks, Christopher Spaulding, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden and Ryan Worsing.

Producer Mac Pirkle (one of the co-founders of Tennessee Repertory Theatre and a 2010 First Night Honoree) reports that rehearsals are progressing splendidly in New York City and predicts a big and boisterous Music City welcome for the cast and crew and their show once the curtain goes up on the much-anticipated musical. Todd Ellison is music director, with JoAnn M. Hunter as choreographer; sets are designed by David Gallo (Tony Award winner for The Drowsy Chaperone) and costumes are by Ann Hould-Ward (Tony winner for Disney's The Beauty and The Beast).

With Zooey Deschanel slated to play Loretta Lynn in the upcoming planned Broadway-bound production of Coal Miner's Daughter-and, sadly, that's all we have to report about that show, although we can't help but think there's going to be some sort of Nashville involvement beyond the music and story-word now comes that the ageless, timeless Cher has given her blessing to a project that would bring her life story to the Broadway stage via a new musical. The living legend, herself, gave the story legs via her Twitter feed over the weekend, even if there was scant information included (save for the information that three actresses will portray Cher over the course of her lifetime, with the possibility that she herself will play, as she put it, "Old Cher").

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Here's what I've been able to find out (never doubt my skills as a reporter; also, it never hurts to have friends in the know): Kevin Murphy is writing the book for the musical, which will be directed by Andy Fickman. The project has been in the works for a while, according to Chambers Stevens-longtime friend and a fixture of both the Nashville and Los Angeles theater, film and TV communities: "My Facebook friend Kevin Murphy is writing the book. And my wife's [Betsy Sullenger] producing partner Andy Fickman is directing. I have heard them talk about it a lot. And it is going to be very juicy!"

And you know Cher's life story is a heck of a lot more interesting than the Spice Girls' collected stories and her songbook is going to provide plenty of fodder for big, glamorous production numbers.

Two things. It's really hard to say this, but after considering it for a while and giving it some really heartfelt thought, (1)  I think the Real Housewives franchise has run its course. And, (B), I watched Anderson Cooper on Kathy Griffin's talk show Thursday night and I think he was very charming, but I fear he's now suffering from over-exposure, becoming the Paula Deen of cable network news.

Then, on Friday, this appeared on the Facebook page of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission: [sic] CASTING ANNOUNCEMENT - NASHVILLE, TN - PLS SHARE/FORWARD: From the Producers of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and The Real Housewives of Orange County comes a NEW Nashville-based docu-series for a major cable network! If you or someone you know is a successful, powerful WOMAN, single or married, with an outstanding personality, who frequents the Nashville social scene - we would love to hear from them! Entrepreneurs, Power Couples, CEO's, Wives of Music Execs and Sports Players etc etc - Please encourage anyone you know who considers themselves part of Nashville's Elite, to apply now. Referrals are certainly welcomed! TO SUBMIT: Email NashvilleCastingCall@gmail.com.  Include your name, recent photos, contact information and a brief bio about you/your family ASAP for further consideration.

So now, every botoxed, fake boobed, extension-headed bimbo in Nashville is calling her gay best friend for advice on what to wear for her interview. Meanwhile, everyone else in Nashville dies a little: Say it ain't so, Bravo Andy aka Andy Cohen! Unless somehow I can finagle a job outta this. Clearly, I can hook Andy up in Music City.

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From Angela Gimlin, who will be joining the Red Carpet Crew at the 2012 First Night Honors, comes this report of another theater awards shindig in the greater Nashville area: The second annual Douche Chiller Theater Awards were handed out June 3 at the Hendersonville home of theater guru Hugh Britt. A select member of theaterati and friends and family of theaterati created short films submitted by Angela Gimlin, Hugh Britt, JoNathan Burgess, Kory and Brandy Cantrell, Jamie and Travis Yost, Daniel ("Motherf…g") Bissell, and others. Angela's film Greenbrier 911 Part 2 won the Golden Douche for Best Film. The movie starred Jeff Ward, Brad Harris, Jim Campbell, J Francis McMahon, Kory Cantrell and Brandy Cantrell. Douchiest Film went to Rude But Funny Part Two starring and directed by Jamie and Travis Yost. Best actor honors went to Jeff Ward while best actress went to Jamie Yost.

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Many of the films submitted featured Nashville theater actors (aka "theaterati") including Jessica Phillips, Kellye Mitchell, Gimlin, Britt, Campbell, Burgess and Bissell, while folks like Anne Geri and David Fann showed up to enjoy the film debuts. Interestingly enough, the first annual DC Film Festival was held last year with Greenbrier 911 Part 1 and Rude But Funny Part 1 also taking top honors. "Hughbert was the assistant director and editor of GB 911 Part 2. That film would not be what it is without his creative genius!" Gimlin reports, in an obvious and blatant attempt to win the award for a third time next year. (She's also the one who referred to Hughbert as "theater guru.") That's Jeff Ward and Brad Harris from Greenbrier 911,  Part 2 pictured at left.

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Speaking of awards and cocktails (you just gotta know that cocktails were involved), ACT 1 celebrated its 2011-12 season Sunday night with the company's third annual Artist Appreciation Gala-a chance to revel in the past season's successes, to recognize the company's Most Valuable Players and to catch up with longtime friends-held at Raz'z Restaurant on Murfreesboro Pike. ACT 1 chairman of the board Melissa Bedinger Hade and executive director Eric Ventress kicked off the fun, with the able assistance of board members Samantha Rogers (the three of them are pictured at left), Bob Roberts, Lynda Cameron-Bayer and Jessica Phillips. MVP awards went to Ryan Williams, Elizabeth Hayes, Anne-Geri and David Fann, Katie "V" (Veglio) and Donald Powell, with Powell and Danny Proctor singled out for "special thanks" from the ACT 1 board. The company's Sue Stinemetz Award-which was preceded by remarks from Joe Stinemetz and Sara Stinemetz-went to Shannon Wood, owner of The Darkhorse Theater, which provides ACT 1 with its performance venue. Shannon was a 2010 First Night Honoree.

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There was a whole slew of ACT 1-ophiles gathered for the event, including Emory Colvin, Jennifer Bennett (who are pictured at left with Samantha Rogers), David Bayer (accompanied by Bet, his charming daughter who is the spitting image of his wife Lynda), Linda Speir, Lane Wright (who'll direct Broadway Bound next season), David McGinnis (who'll direct the season-opening The Shadow Box), Pat Street, Dan McGeachy, Pat Rulon, Vickie Bailey, David Chattam, Phil Brady, Liddy and Kirby Hade (ACT 1's first daughter and first gentleman), JoNathan Burgess, Melissa Williams, Phil Perry, Matthew Scott Baxter, Daryl Pike, Weldon Stice, Bob Fish and Debi Shinners, along with a bunch of other people whose names I can't recall at the moment (although I feel certain I'll hear about who I left off the list very soon).

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And speaking of parties and celebrating, to the left you will see  Daniel W. Black and Britt Hancock (that's music director Ron Murphy looking surreptitiously over Britt's shoulder), two of the stars of The Music Man at Cumberland County Playhouse, which opened last week and runs throughout the rest of the summer. Lindy Pendzick plays Marian the librarian. Leila Nelson choreographs and directs! Go to www.ccplayhouse.com for details.

You love the tunes. You know the words. Now join in the fun! Channel your inner Julie Andrews (frankly, my money's on Charmian Carr's Leisl) and sing along to the movie version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's beloved musical The Sound of Music, presented by Nashville Opera at the historic Franklin Theatre on Sunday, August 19. The evening includes a screening of the classic film in glorious, full-screen Technicolor, complete with subtitles so that the whole audience can sing along. The fun starts with a vocal warm-up led by Nashville Opera singers, who will also take the audience through their complimentary 'magic moments pack," containing various props to be used at strategic points throughout the film. Participants can then show off their creativity and tailoring skills during the famous Fancy-Dress Competition. Prizes will be given for best costumes/The light-hearted audience participation event starts at 1:30 p.m. Opera @ Franklin Theatre features two price levels: Orchestra Seats for $15 or special VIP tickets in the theatre's upstairs Tier for $20. The VIP tickets include a dedicated concession area and a swag bag. Information and tickets are available by calling Nashville Opera at (615) 832-5242 or online at www.nashvilleopera.org.

With the spring audition season just past, we got to wondering about bad audition experiences, so we asked the theaterati to share their stories with us…as you can imagine, the stories are very entertaining and enlightening. Enjoy…

Robert Allen: Getting home to realize I had misread the word "statues" as "statuses" during the entirety of a callback. The joys of a dyslexic doing cold readings.

Asa Ambrister: At the debut auditions of a respected theater company in town, being asked to perform my monologue opera-style, and then having to participate in group exercises such as acting like parts of a machine. We never read from a script.

John Carpenter: Doing a monologue and song and then realizing that I had just done the entire audition with my fly undone. True story-and very embarrassing.

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Brad Oxnam: Green Room Projects season audition during 2007-Rocked on a Shakespearean monologue, but went up during my contemporary piece which the artistic director had seen me do before. Had a similar experience with Nashville Shakes' season this past go-around. Good news: There's always next time!

Stephen Michael Jones: I was auditing for Hairspray (yes, Hairspray), at the Murfreesboro Center for the Arts and prepared to sing "Dancing Through Life" to show off an arrogant confident character. When I stepped up to sing my confident and arrogant character, I immediately turned into a timid and unsure person probably hitting wrong notes because the song was somehow now being played in a minor key. Needless to say I was not cast.

Brian RussellBeing told during auditions to read the Sebastian and Antonio scene from The Tempest as a total frightened freakazoid, then seeing the show months later and realizing that particular piece of direction never showed up onstage in performance.

JoNathan BurgessBeing asked to improve for a Shakespeare audition.

Ryan Williams: Every audition has been the worst audition experience for me.

MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL #4: Onstage, Offstage, Backstage and Beyond With the Theaterati

Blair Allison: Well this didn't happen to me, but I watched it happen to a friend of mine. He was pacing The Edge of the stage, and he fell off, landed in a trashcan and broke a podium. Greatest audition I've ever been to.

Rachael Parker: Well I have several that I can think of off the top of my head. There was a time when I got all the way to the audition room and then the director decided to tell people that the lead roles had been precast by Equity actors-it was a community theatre.

Also the time I fell during a dance audition and not only twisted my ankle, but split the back of my pants. It was then that I decided dresses from here on out for auditions only. Oh! Then there was the time that I had gotten a callback and found out my competition was the director. Needless to say I did not get that role.

Completely blanking out during the middle of my Shakespearean monologue. It should be noted that I was doing a monologue from the Shakespeare that had been done last and the director of the current one was the character whose monologue I was using. Those are some of my best.

Original artwork for Music City Confidential created by Michael Adcockto 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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