MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL #6: All The News from Onstage, Offstage, Backstage and Beyond

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As summer temperatures continue to hover near the 100-degree mark, it's as if the theater community itself has caught fire and there's more interesting and intriguing theater going on in Nashville than you can shake a stick at (if, that is, you wanted to shake a stick at it-which to me sounds like a futile gesture, since I've been shaking my stick at it for longer than I care to admit). Yet, in all sincerity, there really is a lot going on in these parts this summer, and the sense of excitement and anticipation is palpable.

We've been doing our part to prepare ye the way, watching the action onstage, taking some furtive peeks backstage, listening to all the offstage gossip and venturing beyond the confines of the theater to gain the informed knowledge to see more shows in the Volunteer State than you ever thought possible. So, good people of the theaterati, read on and get all the information you need to know in this, our latest installment of Music City Confidential. This is #6…

Dancers and dance aficionados all over Nashville had their chance to celebrate National Dance Day on Saturday, July 28, with events hosted by both Dance Theatre of Tennessee and Nashville Ballet. The celebrations started early at both DTT and Nashville Ballet, with company members and students taking part along with members of the public in general and they continued throughout the day. In fact, the cast of The Nutty Professor Musical, who had two shows on Saturday, probably brought down the curtain on Music City's celebrations of National Dance Day when the curtain rang down on their Saturday evening peformance of the new musical!

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It's that time of year again: the 2012 First Night Honors season is under way in earnest in Music City, with the Preview Party and Announcement of Honorees kicking off festivities on Monday, July 23. Janie and John Chaffin, the owners of the venerable Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre played host to about 85 of the theater community's best and brightest last week to witness the reveal of the 2012 Class of First Night Honorees, the winners of the 2012 First Night Star Awards and the names of this year's Most Promising Actors. The Class of 2012 includes Maggi Bowden and Sue Stinemetz, Maryanna and Chris Clarke, Mary Jane Harvill, Chambers Stevens, Jackie Welch and Paul Vasterling. They will be honored during the upcoming First Night Honors Gala on Sunday, September 2, at Belmont University's Troutt Theatre.

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The First Night Star Award winners-nine men who've proven themselves leaders of the creative community-are Matthew Carlton, Wes Driver, Greg Greene, Tim Larson, Matt Logan, Jim Manning, Johnny Peppers, Eric Ventress and Shawn Whitsell. They join last year's Star Award winners-eight extraordinary women including Maryanna Clarke, Vali Forrister, Cathy Street, Melissa Bedinger Hade, Denice Hicks, Mary McCallum, Trish Crist and Kate Adams-to be singled out for this coveted award. Next year, both women and men will be honored with Star Awards. Last year's First Night Honors saluted women (with a theme of Ladies, First!-thanks to Denice Hicks, we were able to retire our own "Girls, Girls, Girls" idea), and this year we pay tribute to the theatrical contributions of men.

The 18 younger actors who are designated this year as Most Promising Actors are: Maya Abram, Blair Allison, Christian Albright-Redden, Delaney Amatrudo, Tyler Ashley, Douglas Corzine, Gina D'Arco, Spencer Dean, Katelyn Michelle Fiorini, Ryan Garrett, Matt Hunter, Piper Jones, Stephen Michael Jones, Zane Jordan, Kevin Mead, Caleb Reynolds, Whitney Vaughn and Luciano Vignola.

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Everyone was in a very festive mood at the Preview Party (which featured a sumptuous buffet prepared by John Chaffin himself), including Katherine Sandoval Taylor and Stephen-Michael Jones who sang "Love Me As I Am" from Jekyll & Hyde (they're singing the lead roles in Jekyll & Hyde in Concert, presented this coming weekend by Murfreesboro's new Stones River Theatre Company, under the direction of Logan Huber), accompanied on the piano by Warren Langworthy. Among the festive First Night revelers on hand: Cary Street, Kate Adams, Suzanne Spooner-Faulk, Jonathan Pinkerton, Aurora Daniels, Vickie Bailey, Nan and Wayne Gurley, Angela Gimlin and Jeff Ward, Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva, Corrie Miller, Jeremy Maxwell, Neely and Corbin Green, Lora Phillips Hortert, Sherry Sunday-Booth, Mel Roady, Francine Berk, Alice Raver, Sandra and Matt Carlton, Greg Green, Michelle and Wes Driver, Eric Ventress, Memory Strong, Tim Larson, Darin Richardson, Kevin Mead, Jim Manning, Will Butler, Jackie Welch and Mark Schicher, Mary Jane Harvill and Larry Maxwell, Joy Tilley Perryman, Kim Thorton Nygren, Keith Covington, Erin Matthews Richardson, Maggi and Lynn Bowden, Maryanna and Chris Clarke, Blair Allison, Christian Albright-Redden, Delaney Amatrudo, Gina D'Arco, Spencer Dean, Ryan Garrett, Matt Hunter, Brian Russell, John Silvestro, Luckie Westland and Ed Amatrudo, Caryll and Donald Redden, Sandy Godsey, Robert Stone, Wesley Paine, Jennifer Richmond, Nate Eppler, Randy Michaels, Beth Anne Musiker, Cat and David Arnold and2011 First Night Honoree Layne Sasser, among others (my memory just ain't what it used to be!).

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First Night festivities continue this week with the presentation of Love, Loss and What I Wore as part of the Sideshow Fringe Festival. Directed by Beki Baker, the performance is Saturday, August 4, at 8:30 p.m. at The Troutt Theatre, and stars Bonnie Keen, Emily Landham, Shannon McMinn Hoppe, 2010 Most Promising Actor Rosemary Fossee and Helen Shute-Pettaway, a member of First Night's Class of 2011 Honorees. Beki Baker, the actress, also joins in on the fun.

This is the second year for Sideshow Fringe Festival, which bowed last year with a spectacular initial effort that promises to be totally eclipsed by the overwhelming offerings of the 2012 edition. Created by Actors Bridge Ensemble to nurture and to train a new generation of theater artists-offering cross-training to give Sideshow members firmer footing and more experience than is usually offered in local theater-it's a burgeoning artistic and creative collective that produced Boom, the critically acclaimed (that means I loved it) play presented earlier this summer at Belmont's Black Box Theatre.

"We seek to connect initiative with opportunity and to offer Nashville's creative community a space to come together in a showcase of their talents that celebrates diversity, encourages creative dialogue, and stimulates the cultural economy," says their mission statement.

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Sideshow Fringe Festival is Nashville's Progressive Performing Arts Event, a four- day celebration featuring theatre and related live presentations with a special emphasis on original and innovative forms and formats. Dance, music, puppetry, aerial arts, juggling, poetry, and more is showcased in a multi-venue setting with special free outdoor events and family friendly offerings. Tickets now available online! Don't forget to add the festival button, which is required for entry! Go to www.sideshowfringe.com for details, including the amazing line-up of performances-you'll be staggered when you see the list of what's coming your way!

The second annual festival will be housed in the Belmont Black Box Theatre, Troutt Theatre, Belcourt Theatre, Bongo Java After Hours Theatre, Belmont Little Theatre and a neighborhood street venue. All Sideshow Fringe shows are 90 minutes or less. Fringe Buttons are required for admission, and you can add them to your online order or purchase at the box office day of show.

Mark the date of August 12 on your calendar and make plans now for Street Theatre Company's annual It's Vegas, Baby! Fundraiser at the theater's venue at 1933 Elm Hill Pike. From 6 to 10 p.m., STC is transformed into a Las Vegas hotspot, with entertainment and gaming, food and libations-tickets are $25 general admission or $50 VIP. General admission ticket prices include $30,000 worth of playing chips, fine hors d'oeuvres, complimentary wine and beer, silent auction, a burlesque performance and a stellar cabaret featuring STC company members. VIP tickets include an extra $30,000 worth of chips, free commemorative photo from the event and other swag! And, at the end of the evening, whoever ends up with the most chips will get some special prizes. The event also features a spectacular silent auction. Vegas attire is preferred, but not required. Got to www.streettheatrecompany.org to book your spot for the big night!

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We have it on very good authority that Broadway (Catch Me If You Can and next to normal) star Aaron Tveit (the handsome man to the left, who very soon will be taking part in a planned reading of the stage version of the Anastasia musical-Aaron will play Dmitri) will be the headlining performer at TPAC's annual Fest De Ville Gala to be held on Saturday, August 25…details are sure to follow!

During my recent trip to Crossville, I got some bad news: the planned pre-Broadway journey of Little House on the Prairie won't be kicking off this fall at Cumberland County Playhouse after all. Earlier this year it was announced that the musical's creative team hope to use a planned September/October production of the show to fine-tune it for a possible transfer to Broadway. The show previously premiered at the Guthrie Theatre, followed by an engagement at Paper Mill Playhouse that ultimately led to a national tour that was billed as a pre-Broadway journey for the company that was led by TV's Laura Ingalls Wilder herself, Melissa Gilbert (co-starring with Broadway leading man Steve Blanchard and the star of Broadway's current Newsies, Kara Lindsay who played Laura in the musical). Rachel Sheinkin wrote the book, Rachel Portman the music and Donna di Novelli provided the lyrics for the show. We're told the decision to forego the CCP production is due mainly to timing-or the lack of it-to get the planned revisions done in time for an audience to see the product in early autumn.

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Speaking of Steve Blanchard, there he is in the photo at left, with Tony Award winner Beth Leavel, Molly Rushing, and Tennessee's own Broadway veteran Jeremy Benton (who directed Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Musical, now onstage through November 2 at Cumberland County Playhouse) backstage during Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma's Call Me Madam, which closed last night (Saturday, July 28).

With The Nutty Professor Musical playing at TPAC's James K. Polk Theatre, we envisioned the promised production of Little House on the Prairie-along with the planned musical treatment of Loretta Lynn's life story in Coal Miner's Daughter, starring TV's current "It" girl Zooey Deschanel-as a harbinger for Tennessee to become a new breeding ground, a laboratory or a trying-out place for new musicals. Only time will tell if our dream will actually come true.

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And speaking of The Nutty Professor (we will see the show for the first time on Tuesday, July 31, when the official opening night red carpet rolls out down on Demonbreun Street), the word on the street is that producers have a hit on their hands: "We had a wonderful time at Nutty Professor," reports Daron Bruce. "Lots of laughs...great cast, musicians, and choreography. Michael Andrew, Marissa McGowan and KLea Blackhurst were incredible. After the final bows, Jerry Lewis came on stage and thanked the audience for being there and told a quick joke. The audience was just mesmerized seeing the show biz icon on stage." Ann Street-Kavanaugh, who provided us with the photo of Jerry Lewis (and the Nutty Professor company) talking to the audience after the curtain call, agreed: "Really enjoyed The Nutty Professor! I think it had possibly the best entrance of a character ever! It's Broadway-bound for sure!"

Ann and Daron are two people whose opinions I trust, so I can't wait to see the show on opening night and I am particularly anxious to see some of the company members I've gotten to know thanks to my Nutty 5 interviews over the past few weeks including Blair Goldberg, Ronnie Nelson, Patrick O'Neill, Sarah Marie Jenkins, KLea Blackhurst, Marissa McGowan, Danny Young, Alex David, Jason Sparks, Kyle Vaughn, Carly Blake Sebouhian and our "home girls" Allison Little, Meghan Glogower and Autumn Guzzardi-along with our upcoming Nutty Fivers Christopher Spaulding, Dominique Plaisant and all their uber-talented cohorts!

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While in Crossville for the opening night of Backwards in High Heels, I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of Playhouse volunteers, company members and sponsors at the pre-show reception, hosted by Uplands Village. Thanks to my pal Tracey Barnes for inviting me to take part; I had the opportunity to wax poetic and nostalgic at the same time while talking about theater across Tennessee, in general, and at Cumberland County Playhouse, in particular. During the reception (and during intermission and post-show), I had the opportunity to talk (…smile and wave from a distance)to a lot of people including some of my Playhouse favorites including Jim Crabtree, Debra Barrett Graham, Lisa Garner Harrison, Lauren Marshall and Ron Murphy, Carly Amburn, Daniel Black, Michael Ruff, Porter Williams, Quinn Cason, Chaz Sanders, Austin Price, Emily Woods, Cat Brisson, Lindy and Greg Pendzick, Weslie Webster, Britt Hancock, Sam Hahn, Ryan Haderlie, Ted Meeker, Leila Nelson, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, Chris Rayis, Patti Payne, Carol and Butch Irvin and so many more. I also got to see Jessica Wockenfuss, Jason Ross, Colin Cahill and John Dobbratz tapping their hearts out onstage-and finally got to meet Dale and Freddy Richardson-who were there to cheer on recent Belmont University musical theatre grad Douglas Waterbury-Tieman who made his Playhouse debut as Fred Astaire-accompanied by their daughter, Maggie Richardson whom I'd already met during a performance of Legally Blonde the Musical in Woodbury.

MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL #6: All The News from Onstage, Offstage, Backstage and Beyond

In the next couple of weeks, there are a lot of shows opening in our corner of the world: Stones River Theatre Company debuts with Jekyll & Hyde in Concert down in Murfreesboro, with Katherine Sandoval Taylor, Stephen-Michael Jones, Warren Langworthy and company; Jamie Cutler's original Angels Without Wings opens at Darkhorse Theatre this weekend, starring our favorites Britt Byrd, Halee Culicerto, Kyla Lowder, Courtney McClellan and more; Blandina Vergara-Cruz's production of Bye Bye Birdie takes the stage of Pull-Tight Theatre in Franklin, featuring Johnny Peppers, Kandace Williams Peppers, Ryan Garrett, Howard Snyder and a cast of thousands; next up at Boiler Room Theatre is Steel Magnolias starring, among others, our favorites Kay Ayers, Lynn Yates, Linda Speir and Keri Pisapia; Xanadu takes the stage at Woodbury's Arts Center of Cannon County, directed by Darryl Deason and starring Maggie Richardson and Cody Rutledge; L.T. Kirk and JoNathan Burgess present Mysterious Skin at Darkhorse, featuring Will Butler, Chuck Long, Francine Graver, Matt Smith, among others; and then there is the plethora of offerings at Sideshow! Already we feel a spa day coming on…

Thanks to Michael Adcock for designing our Music City Confidential logo and the poster for Love, Loss and What I Wore

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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