MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL #7: All the News from Onstage, Offstage, Backstage and Beyond

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With the Olympics wrapping up in London this weekend, attention is refocused on theater and the accompanying drama of same, here in Music City and the rest of the state of Tennessee. While we've dreamed of putting a nose clip on the schnozz and taking to the pool in search of our very own gold medal in synchronized swimming, our collective mind has been wandering to other events and celebrations that are closer to home (although we should point out that we turned down an invitation to accompany a friend to London for an opening, in order that we could keep you abreast of the hijinks of the local theaterati) and here we are yet again, writing another Music City Confidential!

Apparently, it is Elvis Week in Nashville (at least according to the fine folks at Loveless Café), so before we head out to the theater for a full weekend of show openings and the like, a trip to West Nashville for a slice of the Loveless' Elvis pie is in order (for the uninitiated, that's peanut butter, banana, bacon and homemade whipped cream-the four basic food groups, according to The King.), so before we slip into a diabetic coma, here's installment #7 of Music City Confidential, all the news that's fit to print from onstage, offstage, backstage and beyond…

Circle Players' Aida opens out at The Larry Keeton Theatre tonight, as Ralph Gabriel directs a cast headed by LaToya Gardner in the title role, 2012 First Night Most Promising Actor Kevin Mead as Radames and Lisa Graham is Amneris. The show runs Friday, August 10, through Saturday, August 25, at The Larry Keeton Theatre on 108 Donelson Pike. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Two dozen local performers, some of whom are new to Circle Players, will sing, act and dance in this show which is rarely performed in Middle Tennessee. The company also will strive to make the dances as ethnically and historically accurate as possible in relation to ancient Egypt. The cast will perform songs such as "Easy as Life," "Every Story is a Love Story" and "Written in the Stars," which became a pop chart hit when the cast recording was released in 2000. Tickets can be purchased online at www.circleplayers.net or by phone (615) 332-7529. Individual tickets will also be on sale at the box office at the Keeton Theatre one hour before each performance.

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At Dickson's Renaissance Center, Thornton Wilder's Our Town premieres tonight as The Renaissance Players' 2012 season continues. Directed by Nancy Nave, the cast features Quinn Gorte as Emily and 2012 First Night Most Promising Actor Zane Jordan as George, and a veritable cast of thousands portray the citizens of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, in this revival of one of American theater's most classic works. The Renaissance Players production of Our Town runs August 10 through August 19, with performances every Friday and Saturday evenings at 7 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. The production will also include a display of photographs presented in the Rotunda of The Renaissance Center, courtesy of the Clement Railroad Hotel Museum, that depict life in Dickson County during the time of the Our Town story, from the turn of the century through the theatrical opening in 1938.

On the other end of the spectrum, down in Woodbury audiences will be transported to the 1980s as the Arts Center of Cannon County debuts Xanadu, the now-classic musical that features the songs from the campy movie that starred Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck and Gene Kelly! Maggie Richardson and Cody Rutledge head the cast of director Darryl Deason's production. An '80s jukebox musical complete with roller skates and a mirror ball-and no, it's not like the movie, it's actually really good, really! Don't miss a campy story of an artist, Sonny, that has lost all inspiration and thus the muse, Kira comes to help him and inspires him to open...a roller disco! , but her evil sisters, Melpomene and Calliope, plan on putting a curse on her and Sonny to make Kira fall in love with Sonny, which is forbidden from Zeus himself. The show features Michael McGee, Gerald Melto, Kerri Karidolf, Abbey Kairdolf, Drew Jenkins, Caleb Marshall and Scarlett Turney. Go to www.artscenterofcc.com or call (800) 235-9073 for tickets.

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It's always awkward for a critic to show up at an after-show cast party-no matter what the show is-because people always ask, "What did you think?" or "Did you like the show?" Trust me, nothing makes me more uncomfortable than those questions, so when I was invited to the post-opening night party for The Nutty Professor (which opened officially at TPAC's James K. Polk Theatre on July 31), I was hesitant to go. Hell, I hemmed and hawed with the best of 'em and finally decided I shouldn't go, although I was looking forward to talking face-to-face with all the company members I'd already gotten to know via emails, texts and Facebook posts. However, Memory Strong and Nancy Hickman McNulty-when they heard about the invitation-just would not let up and so, with Mark McNulty along for the ride, the four of us set out for the party. Thanks to TPAC's very own Kathleen O'Brien and Tim O'Brien, we found our way to the party venue without incident, and found ourselves among the throngs of glitterati and theaterati assembled for the fete.

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Despite the fact that the party was hotter than blue blazes, as my daddy was wont to say, we had a fairly large dose of fun and thrills, rubbing elbows with all the beautiful people (every member of the cast is a quadruple threat: dancer, singer, actor and spokesmodel-perfect) while Nancy managed to elbow her way into every photo opp that presented itself. For example, while KLea Blackhurst and I were having a heart-to-heart, Nancy managed to pop her head in between us for her own photo opportunity. Among the company members we got to hob-nob with (if people still, indeed, hob-nob with one another) were Danny Young, Ronnie Nelson (who's a photographer of note whose backstage pictures are spectacular), Jason Sparks (who, interestingly enough, is close friends with my pal Jeremy Benton), Patrick O'Neill, Autumn Guzzardi (who actually played Marilyn Monroe opposite Jeremy Benton in Reel to Real in Hong Kong), Sarah Marie Jenkins, Allison Little (with her husband Dan Little of the Franklin Littles), Carly Blake Sebouhian (with her boyfriend), Christopher Spaulding (who may well be the hardest working man in show business-the man's amazing!), Kyle Vaughn, Ryan Worsing, the show's gorgeous leading lady Marissa McGowan (joined by her handsome and charming boyfriend and her equally handsome and charming agent), the amazing choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter and the stunning Liz Ramos.

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Among the Nashvillians making the scene were conductor Stephen Kummer and his wife Jennifer Kummer (who's in the band), Barry Green (the musicians' contractor and tromobonist in the Nutty orchestra) and his wife, Nashville chanteuse/actress/drop-dead gorgeous Shelean Newman, producer Mac Pirkle and his wife Karen Pirkle, the show's Nashville P.R. wizards Melinda Gales and David Gales of The Gales Network, Greg Boling (on break from Disney on Ice and pressed into service by The Nutty Professor crew), guitarist Paul Carrol Binkley (the man of the noteworthy "wah-wah") and the lovely Erin Ramsey, my longtime pal and TPAC's very own Christi Dortch, and a sampling of some of Music City's movers and shakers, including Mayor Karl Dean, the Tennessee Democratic Party's Chip Forrester and so many other political types you'd have thought barbecue was on the menu. To the left, you'll see the aforementioned Memory Strong and Nancy Hickman McNulty flanking the tall-dark-and-handsome Ronnie Nelson.

With only one more week left in Nashville, The Nutty Professor will pull up stakes and move on to the next chapter in the show's life and we must confess that we will miss having the cast and crew in town-they've made the theater community better during their time in Music City and they've all been tremendously charming, gracious and friendly while in our fair burg. I can't wait to see them open the show on Broadway!

Have you made your reservations for Vegas yet? You don't have to go to Las Vegas to experience the showy, decadent and theatrical city (which I've often referred to as like being in a blowdryer-thank-you-very-much to Designing Women), thanks to Cathy Street and her talented cohorts at Street Theatre Company who host their annual It's Vegas, Baby! fundraiser at the theater at 1933 Elm Hill Pike on Sunday night, August 12. There's food and drink, gambling and a silent auction, entertainment featuring some of your favorite performers and it's sure to be a memorable experience. Truly, it's one of Nashville theater's most eagerly anticipated events every year and this one promises to knock your socks off!

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Whatcha doing Monday (besides nursing a hangover after It's Vegas, Baby)? Cumberland County Playhouse will be host two tap master classes, conducted by CCP alumnus and Broadway veteran Jeremy Benton (the best tap dancer on the Great White Way, who directed CCP's Backwards in High Heels starring Jessica Wockenfuss, Weslie Webster and Douglas Waterbury-Tieman) on Monday, August 13. Beginning to intermediate will be from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Intermediate (16 and up), advanced, and college professional will be from 4:45-5:45 p.m. The cost is $10 per person. Please call Meka Doxtator Barrier at (931) 484-4324 to register or if you have any questions. Does anyone know where my tap shoes have gotten to?

Opening next Thursday night-running August 16-18 at Darkhorse Theatre-is Kirk-Burgess Productions' Mysterious Skin. Described as "bold, captivating and often shocking," Mysterious Skin, a play by Prince Gomolvilas based on the novel by Scott Heim. "Mysterious Skin is a daring, compelling and mind-bending production which sheds light on subjects that too often are kept in the dark," says L.T. Kirk, a performer and producer who now adds "director" to his resume. "This production is the antithesis of what Nashville audiences are accustomed to in theater. We knew that we had to bring this work to our community." Jonathan Burgess dives into his directing and producing debut just before beginning his freshman year of college. Kirk says Burgess has approached the project "with a keen observant eye, and a strong willingness to learn 'the tools of the trade.'" Among the actors featured in Mysterious Skin are Will Butler, JoNathan BurgessFrancine Berk, Samantha Rogers, Chuck Long, Angela GimlinMatt Smith, Amanda Smith, Josh Stutts, Kory James Holden and Kelsey Wilsher. Kirk and Burgess are joined on the production team by longtime producer Donald Powell.

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Coming up on local stages in the next few weeks are two estrogen-driven shows that focus on Southern women: Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias opens August 17 at the Boiler Room Theatre, while Dixie Swim Club, by Jones-Hope-Wooten, opens August 23 at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre. At BRT, Lisa Gillespie directs a cast that includes Kay AyersLynn Yates (that's her to the left)Linda SpeirKeri Pisapia, Lori Bargas and Cassie Hamilton. Meanwhile, at Chaffin's Barn, First Night Award winner Bobby Wyckoff directs Kim Thornton NygrenRebekah Durham, Kelly Lapczynski, Vicki White and Holly Butler. I can't wait to see both shows, despite my love/hate relationship with Steel Magnolias-the show that once pushed me over The Edge; after a production in Oak Ridge, I wrote that if I'd had a gun I would have shot Ouiser. Henceforth, I do not condone or support the use of firearms for use in response to onstage performances, just so's you know, but for the love of Pete that was one performance that will be forever seared into my brain (theater can actually cause PTSD).

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It's that time of year again: next week Nashville Shakespeare Festival's unveils its latest Shakespeare-in-the-Park production-artistic director Denice Hicks' 1940s-flavored staging of Much Ado About Nothing! Starring a whole bunch of our favorites (Evelyn O'Neal Brush, Patrick Waller, Martha Wilkinson, Jeff Boyet, Steven Fiske, Emily Palmer, Bradley Brown, Randall Lancaster, Phil Perry, Ran Cummings, Sawyer Wallace, Emily Webb, Sydni Hayes, Rachel Woods, Trevor Kassis, Ian Pestrak, Isabel Webb, Lawrence Rogers, Zoe Mazzu and Patrick Chickey), the boys are coming home in this summer's Much Ado about Nothing (with music and lyrics by Janet McMahan, David Huntsinger and Tom McBryde, music direction is by Ben Van Diepen). It's 1945, and Benedick and Claudio return from the Pacific to meet their old flames at Leonata's supper club. Beatrice has been working as a riveter, and maybe she doesn't need that quarrelsome Benedick in her life. Hero and Claudio prepare to wed, but the crafty Don John has other plans. This original musical adaptation by The Nashville Shakespeare Festival promises to be star-spangled fun for the whole family, and is dedicated to U.S .service men and women. Opening weekend is August 16-19, and the frivolity continues August 23 - September 16, 2012 on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, with a special Monday performance on Labor Day, September 3. Clearly, you won't want to miss it! That's Evelyn and Patrick in the photo by the remarkable Jeff Frazier.

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The talented ladies to the left are the cast of Love, Loss and What I Wore, which kicks off First Night 2012 festivities in Nashville. That's Helen Shute-Pettaway, Emily Landham, Rosemary Fossee, Shannon Hoppe, Bonnie Keen and Beki Baker (aka The Director). Coming up on Sunday, August 26, at The Larry Keeton Theatre will be a staged reading of All About Eve, the very best movie about the theatre, directed by First Night Award winner and 2011 First Night Star Award winner Melissa Bedinger Hade, and featuring a cast that includes Rebekah Durham as Margo Channing, Britt Byrd as Eve Harrington, Ross Bolen, Alice Raver, Ed Amatrudo, John Silvestro, Memory Strong, Kristi Mason, Lisa Marie Wright, Anthony Just, Caroline Davis and yours truly (playing against type as venomous fishwife Addison DeWitt). Curtain's at 7:30 p.m., come join us for a cocktail and some biting repartee.

On Monday, August 27, (same Bat-time, same Bat-channel, as it were) director Tim Larson stages The Men From the Boys, the sequel to Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band, starring Clay Hillwig, 2011 First Night Honoree Danny Proctor, 2012 First Night Most Promising Actor Stephen Michael Jones, 2011 First Night Most Promising Actor Tyler Henry, Michael Adcock, David Williams, Anthony Just, Eddie Charlton and Macon Kimbrough. Come join us for a cocktail and some biting, bitchy repartee (do you notice a trend here?)…

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On Thursday, August 30, Denice Hicks takes time off from Nashville Shakespeare Festival's Much Ado About Nothing to helm our staged reading of Twain and Shaw Do Lunch, which is by 2012 First Night Honoree Chambers Stevens, one of the co-founders of Nashville Shakespeare Festival. That show will be at Belmont University's Black Box Theatre. Curtain's at 7:30 p.m. and like all other First Night readings, it's pay-what-you-can at the door. Danny Proctor is responsible for the show's poster (he also did the posters for All About Eve and Men From the Boys)!

Friday night, August 31, marks the conclusion of events leading up to the big Honors Gala (Sunday, September 2, at Belmont University's Troutt Theatre), as we present Rhubarb Theater Company's production of Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden-starring 2011 First Night Star Award winner Trish Crist, Bakari Jamal King and Phil Brady-which comes one week after the show's one-weekend run at Darkhorse Theater. It is also a pay-what-you-can event and it represents another of our unique First Night collaborations with an existing theater company-all of our events are designed to promote live theater and the people who make the magic of live theater throughout Tennessee! Next year, we hope you'll see more of these collaborations…

MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL #7: All the News from Onstage, Offstage, Backstage and Beyond

Broadway's Bailey Hanks (she starred in Legally Blonde) is among the stars who'll be singing for our 2012 First Night Honorees at the First Night Honors Gala on Sunday, September 2, at Belmont University's Troutt Theatre. And then you can make the trip to Clarksville to see her as Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5: The Musical at The Roxy Regional Theatre September 14-October 13!

The Music City Confidential logo is by the lovely and talented Michael Adcock.

 

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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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