MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL: Offstage, Onstage, Backstage and Beyond With Tennessee's Theaterati

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Just when you thought it was safe to go to the theater once again, we welcome you to the debut installment of Music City Confidential, all the news that's fit to print (or not-depending on your perspective) from Nashville's ever-growing, ever-fascinating (okay, so we obviously don't have enough to occupy ourselves) live theater industry (we're trying that out-does it work? Let us know, theaterati!) Here amid the florid prose and flowery praise, you'll find all the stories that don't quite fit elsewhere, 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…

In honor of the presentation of The Tony Awards (and with The First Night Honors 2012 less than three months from now), we announce the beginning of a new First Night/Nashville theater tradition: The First Night Robe, inspired by Broadway's Gypsy Robe, will be presented to the newest-to-the-theater cast member in every production opening on a Nashville stage, with the initial presentation at The First Night Gala on Sunday, September 2. Designed by Rowena Soriano Gonzalez Aldridge, The First Night Robe will be inscribed on the lining with wishes of good luck and inspiration by every First Night Honoree since 2010 and each recipient will add something from the show in which they were honored to represent them and their show. It will then move on to the next individual and production to create a tangible connecting thread that exists, representing the feeling of community and tradition of Nashville theater. More details will follow in the coming months before the presentation of The First Night Robe to the "newest" person performing at The First Night Gala.

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It's always a good idea to have photographer/drummer Rick Malkin in the pit when you're doing a musical; he'll get some great shots to publicize your show and to remember who all was in the audience (plus, there's the fact that he's a damn good drummer)! To the left, Rick captures a scene from the "enjoyed it" line Tuesday night, June 12, for Boiler Room Theatre's next to normal, featuring (left to right) Megan Murphy Chambers (who gives a stunning performance as Diana in the show), Melinda Doolittle, Melodie Madden Adams and Kelley Norris.

Speaking of The Tony Awards (and since at least 90% of the theaterati were glued to their TVs Sunday night-Eric Ventress among the naysayers who refused to engage in the annual revelry)-we canvassed friends and acquaintances, posing the question "What were your favorite Tony moments?" (not exactly the most probing of queries, but still…) and we got responses from a few folk…Kate Adams, quite possibly Nashville's busiest choreographer and producing artistic director of The Larry Keeton Theatre, returned the favor by asking: "Why isn't Best Choreography still a televised category? People just do not appreciate us!" Deb Rogers Holloway, who's on the theatre faculty at David Lipscomb University, said, "Porgy and Bess is the best so far, especially Audra McDonald!" to which she later added, "Another wonderful moment was Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin." Stephen Michael Jones, who recently starred as Sonny in Boiler Room Theatre's Xanadu, picked "Neil Patrick Harris upside down!" Kenneth C. Stalsworth sided with Deb Rogers Holloway: "Even after 28 wins, I never tire of seeing Audra McDonald win a Tony!" And erstwhile Nashvillian, now a New Yorker, actress Melissa Bailey (who we love and adore) said, "Steve Kazee's win! He gave the most beautiful performance that I've ever seen. So deserved!"

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In non-Tony Awards-related social/cultural fetes in Nashville on Sunday: Writer Laura Harrington made a triumphant return to Nashville last weekend in support of her well-received debut novel Alice Bliss, doing a meet-and-greet, reading and book-signing at Ann Patchett's Parnassus Books in Green Hills. The event marked Laura's first visit to Nashville since 1996 when she was here for the Tennessee Repertory Theatre production of The Perfect 36, the original musical-for which she supplied the libretto-that was a highlight of the Volunteer State's Bicentennial Celebration.  After the book-signing at Parnassus, Laura and some Perfect 36 alums (including, at left, Kelly Lake Coy, Ginger Newman, Brooke Bryant and Tim Fudge, with Laura in the center, all of whom were looking terrific, just as you'd expect) moved to Rosepepper in East Nashville for a reunion.

After a year filled with so many productions of Hairspray (any of which would have fared better on the Tonys than that "floating in the middle of the ocean" cruise ship number to which we were subjected) and The Sound of Music, Nashville audiences-forget the audiences, what about the critics, for christ's sake?-will be treated to multiple productions of 9 to 5: The Musical and Into the Woods later this year. Oh, joy! We'll be turning off our phone later to craft our review template so all we'll have to do is change the names of the parties involved. We're all about saving time. In other news: We'll be eternally grateful to Rene Dunshee Copeland for picking the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony Award-winning Best Play Clybourne Park to open Tennessee Rep's 2012-13 season on September 6 (only four days after the show's Broadway run shutters)!

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Jo Lynn Burks, Nashville's very own Manhattan cabaret star (who regularly shares the wealth of her wisdom, expertise and show business savvy as part of the faculty for Belmont University's musical theatre program), is off to Sweden this week as conductor/back-up singer for Nashville's very own Broadway star Laura Bell Bundy who is, presumably, taking Scandanavia by storm via her headlining tour. To the left, Laura Bell performs at CMA Fest, with Jo Lynn on keyboards behind her.

So ABC has picked up the new series Nashville (catchy name, huh?) for fall, and everyone in these parts is excited about the possibilities, particularly since a passel of Nashville actors (David Alford, Ed Amatrudo, Jake Speck, Nettie Kraft, among others) were part of the pilot, both onscreen and off, and with it now going to series, there's the hope that these very talented and skilled Nashville artists will continue to be seen and collect paychecks for their involvement. However, last we heard, no one's yet been told if they will indeed continue to be a part of the much-anticipated and talked about series that stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettierre as rival country music queens.

Nashvillian Heather Anderson's transplanted now in New York and has been cast as Mae in Secret Theatre Musicals' upcoming revival of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party. The production is directed by Taryn Turney and will play a three-week limited engagement. Performances will begin Thursday, July 12 and continue through Saturday, July 28 at The Secret Theatre. Evening shows Thursday through Saturday are at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m., with a special matinee performance on the 28th at 3 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit www.secrettheatre.com. If you're in NYC, go see our Heather, tell her we miss her and are very proud of her while you welcome her to the Big Apple in style!

Murfreesboro impresario Logan Huber has announced the August launch of his Stones River Theatre Company with its first production, Jekyll & Hyde In Concert, set to play Middle Tennessee State University's Hinton Hall in the Wright Music Building. Huber directs, Charles Parker music directs, Kaitlyn Moore choreographs, and the complete cast list includes: Stephen Michael Jones, Katherine Sandoval Taylor, Jeana Campbell, John C. Taylor, Warren Langworthy, Kinsey Brewer, Christine Poythress, David Winton, Quintin Parnell, David Campbell, Shawn Lewis, Benjamin George, Kate Byrd, Hayley Orozco, Victoria Laney, Austin Blythe, Ciara Cope, Blake Holliday, Kaitlyn Moore, Miranda Vaque and MykAl Wilson. The show runs August 3-5.

From Matthew Carlton comes this news: "My play Hanging Mary has been selected for the 2012 Appalachian Plays and Playwrights Festival at Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia." That, of course, is where our beloved Erin Parker now hangs her acting hat (when she's not in Nashville performing with the other women of Mas Nashville).

Tennessee Performing Arts Center plays host to Under the Streetlamp on Thursday night, June 14, and Nashville audiences are expecting to have their socks knocked off by Michael Ingersoll, Shonn Wiley, Michael Cunio and Christopher Kale Jones. This much we know: the Jersey Boys alums will exemplify the term "sharp-dressed men."

Greg Greene and Wes Driver, the brain trust/creative collective behind Blackbird Theater have announced the casts of their next two shows, something we consider a stroke of genius (since it squelches rumors, builds anticipation and shuts down speculation about who's in the shows).  This fall's production of John Logan's Red, which will be directed by Mike Fernandez, stars Ronnie Meek as Mark Rothko and Justin Boccitto as Ken. Peter Shaffer's Amadeus (which will run next March, 2013) stars Brian Webb Russell as Salieri and Brent Maddox as Mozart; the rest of the cast includes Amanda Card McCoy, Evelyn O'Neal Brush, Ben Van Diepen, Michael Slayton, Brad Forrister, Ronnie Meek, Phil Perry, Katherine Sandoval Taylor, Kristopher Wente, Sawyer Wallace, Billy Rosenberg, Robyn Berg, John Mauldin, Kay Ayers, John Silvestro and Emory Colvin.

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We asked Nashville's glittering, if not necessarily scintillating, theaterati to tell us their favorite stagebound stories using only six words and got some great responses, although both Denice Hicks and Brian Russell (that's him at left) had to use more than six words (can you believe they are the two who couldn't follow directions?) to tell theirs! So here are the best of the best, without explanation or references to what show or theater was involved (although we're assured no one was actually injured in the process)…

"Sliding completely out of plastic sandals."-Joy Tilley Perryman

"Oops, did I just say that?" – "Are you sure this will hold?" – "Fred, Barney, Pebbles: Pile-up stageright!"-Sherry Johnson, who just won't shut up…

"Blew out knee opening night-ouch!"-Bill Jones

"The role of Jo March: Astonishing!"-Amie Lara

"Opening macadamia nuts during live theater!"-Abby Burke

"Bats in the Belfry at Bailey!"-Elliott Winston Robinson

"My 'sexy' was Michael Edwars' Mae West."-Denice Hicks

"Patron walked midstage between me/Wesley."-Trish Crist

"I was upstaged by a cockroach."-RandAl Cooper

"Bracing myself as Jenny slaps me…"-Jim Reyome

"Flying: But no one had rope."-Steve Baum

"Take it from the slap (kick/punch/etc.)"-Brian Russell, alluding to what he calls "a legend" from Nashville Children's Theatre.

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Intermission@Arsenic and Old Lace: Look to the left to see Joe Bosnak (Jonathan Brewster), Rachael E. Parker (Elaine Harper), and Faye Northcutt-Knox (Abby Brewster) are pictured backstage at The Arts Center of Cannon County's production of Aresenic and Old Lace, thanks to the quick thinking of Matthew Hayes Hunter! They're behaving nicely, it seems.

Planning your weekend entertainment schedule? Mary McCallum, Molly Breen and Tamiko Robinson star in McCallums' original comedy Singleville: If The Stiletto Fits, described as "a mixer and play" at The Next Level Arts and Entertainment Mindset at 1008 Charlotte Avenue.  92Q's Jene India hosts the mixer (which starts at 7:30 p.m., doors open at 7) and the play starts at 8:30 p.m. (tickets to each are $10). For reservations, call (615) 668-0421.

Opening this weekend are Sideshow's boom at Belmont's Blackbox Theatre (Thursday through Sunday) which culminates the first full season of Actors Bridge Ensemble's Sideshow (the next season starts up in August), and the two-performance debut of Chris Boardman's play So She Lived, playing the Darkhorse Friday and Saturday nights (Courtney McClellan is his assistant director and the cast includes Ann Street Kavanaugh).

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Diva Idina Menzel makes her return trip to Nashville this Saturday night for a concert at The Woods Amphitheatre at Fontanel, the former estate of country music superstar Barbara Mandrell. Idina appears once again with the Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony Orchestra, with whom she performed last year at Schermerhorn Symphony Center. The erstwhile Elphaba, who won a Tony Award for that iconic performance, sings for her Nashville fans only four days before her old pal Galinda-newly minted country music queen Kristin Chenoweth, who owns a Tony herself-performs at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, June 20.

This weekend also includes the closing performances of next to normal (starring Megan Murphy Chambers, Mike Baum, Kevin Mead, Paige Brouillette, Jordan Ravellette and Ben Van Diepen) at Boiler Room Theatre, Studio Tenn's The Sound of Music (featuring some of Nashville's favorites like Matthew Carlton, Marguerite Lowell and Shelean Newman, along with Broadway veterans Jessica Grové and Ben Davis) at The Franklin Theatre, the Richard Browder-directed revival of Boys in the Band at Murfreesboro's Out Front On Main, Camping With Henry and Tom (with Ken Jackson among others) at Franklin's Pull-Tight Theatre, Arts Center of Cannon County's Arsenic and Old Lace (directed by Matt Smith)and The Renaissance Players' Bye Bye Birdie (starring Michelle Valenti, Carl Blunt, Marilyn Fair, Brad Burns and Stephanie Wright).

MUSIC CITY CONFIDENTIAL: Offstage, Onstage, Backstage and Beyond With Tennessee's Theaterati

Up in Crossville, at Cumberland County Playhouse, Broadway/film/television legend Bob Gunton (yep, Broadway's original Juan Peron got his start in the hills of Tennessee) concludes his run in his original show, Walking on Water.

Runs continuing this weekend include Fiddler on the Roof at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre (with a cast led by Derek Whittaker, Debbie Kraski, Jennifer Richmond and Luke Denison), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (with RandAl Cooper and J.T. Landry, directed by Kate Adams), The Roxy Regional Theatre's The Wedding Singer (starring Josh Bernaski), Damn Yankees at Towne Centre Theatre and Street Theatre Company's Say Goodnight, Gracie (with Jeremy Maxwell, Melissa Silengo, Laura Crockarell, Alan Smith and Ryan Williams) and on Tuesday nights for the next three weeks you can catch Holly Allen and Cathy Street in Parallel Lives at STC. 

Original artwork for Music City Confidential created by Michael Adcock/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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