NUTTY PROFESSOR, Blackbird Theatre, Feehely Claim Top Honors at Midwinter's First Night


The world premiere of a brand-spanking new musical with Broadway in its sights, a relatively young but awe-inspiring theater company and a sparkling, witty new play about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald led the list of Tennessee's outstanding theatrical achievements in 2012 that was revealed Sunday night at Midwinter's First Night.

The Nutty Professor-the Jerry Lewis-directed musical that features a sterling pedigree, along with the late Marvin Hamlisch's final score and a libretto by the much-heralded Rupert Holmes-was named First Night's Theatrical Event of 2012 at the annual event, presented by Nashville's contributing editor Jeffrey Ellis.


Named as First Night's Outstanding Theatre Company of 2012 was Blackbird Theatre-founded by Wes Driver and Greg Greene-which claimed the award in its third season as the professional theater in residence at Nashville's David Lipscomb University. Playwright/director/acting teacher Bill Feehely took the third of the night's most coveted awards for First Night's Outstanding Original Work of 2012 for his new play Outside Paradise, a stylish retelling of the life and times of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre, the Southern belle who stole his heart.

Claiming the First Night Award for Top Touring Show of 2012 was Anything Goes, starring Rachel York and Erich Bergen, which played at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in November.

With Franklin's Boiler Room Theatre filled to capacity, members of Tennessee's theater community gathered Sunday night, January 6, for Midwinter's First Night-the annual salute to the very best in live theater in the Volunteer State that featured the presentation of the Nashville Theatre Awards and the Tennessee Theatre Awards, along with the announcement of First Night's Top Ten of 2012, critic Jeffrey Ellis' annual lists of the performances and productions he deemed to be the very best on Tennessee stages.


Midwinter's First Night, which was hosted by Ellis and actress Angela Gimlin, featured performances by The Divas, four women known throughout the theater community for their tremendous talents both onstage and off-, including Mallory Gleason, Amanda Lamb, Memory Strong and Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva. Accompanied by longtime First Night musical director Jane Kelley, the Divas were also joined onstage by Jaclyn Lisenby Brown (who accompanied Lamb on the guitar, including one original song written by Brown) and Jill Sissel, who joined Whitcomb-Oliva onstage for a crowd-pleasing performance of "Pure Imagination."

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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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