STAGE TUBE: Laura Matula Sings 'Can You Unbreak a Heart' From Punchinello



Theater audiences in Nashville will be treated to something new this weekend as the new musical Punchinello, based on the writings of Max Lucado, will be presented in a staged reading at Wallace Chapel at Christ Church Nashville this Friday and Saturday nights.

Featuring music by Christopher Davis, with lyrics and book by Frederick Richardson (who also directs), the musical is brought to life by a virtual who's who of Nashville theater, including Patrick Waller, Laura Matula, Bakari King, Nan Gurley, Wayne Gurley, Bonnie Keen, Will Sevier, Susannah Smith White, Anna Grace Stewart, Derek West, Larry Cox Jr., Rod Fletcher and Aaron Tedeschi, with performances by "The Wemmick Chorus" and "The Wee Wemmick Choir" also promised by the director.

Freddy Richardson took a break from a busy week of rehearsals and pre-show prep to give us some insider information about Punchinello, its development and about the creative process required to bring a new musical to the stage.

What is the genesis for this project? Punchinello is a new musical adaptation of Max Lucado's series of books about a village of wooden people, the Wemmicks, and one particularly troubled Wemmick, Punchinello.  Book writer and lyricist Frederick Richardson, along with his wife, Dale, were meeting with Stephen and Miriam Tedeschi, founders of The Arts Place, a non-profit arts organization founded to encourage and develop strong, family-friendly artistic projects and provide training for young artists. The Richardsons had read Lucado's books to their children, and Dale had the idea to turn them into a musical. The Tedeschis loved the idea and immediately wanted to be involved in its gestation. Within a few months the Richardsons brought on board composer Christopher Davis to complete the creative team.

What sets Punchinello apart from all the other musicals in the works out there in the ether? Punchinello  is a musical in the classic Disney style-a  timeless story of a young Wemmick (wooden people created by Eli, the woodcarver) discovering that he does not have to try to be what others expect of him, but only needs to live into who he is made to be. The musical is designed to reach a multi-generational audience.

What speaks most personally to you as an artist about Punchinello? I love writing for musical theatre- the opportunity to move a story and develop characters in the context of a song is so very different from writing for other genres. For Punchinello, I have been able to write tender, emotional songs like "Punchinello's Prayer" and "Can You Unbreak a Heart" and fun, crazy lyrics like "Marvellaphony Organoni" and "To Be With It, A Nose Must Be Green."  Only for musical theatre could I write a chorus that reads:

A rose is a rose is a rose
And a nose is a nose is a nose
Until said nose
shines and glows
like jade or aquamarine

I strike my silhouette pose
My verdigris nose to expose
And so, I suppose,
now everyone knows
To be with it, a nose must be green!

Why will Punchinello appeal to audiences? Max Lucado's Wemmicks books have impacted countless families-both parents and children-with well-drawn characters and their universal personal struggles, and the much-needed message that every person is created for a unique purpose fitting into a master plan. It truly will appeal to all ages-there's something for young children, teenagers, and adults.

Why should people come to the staged reading? The staged readings on March 16 and 17 will feature some of middle Tennessee's finest actors, in great roles, singing memorable songs -- it will be a very entertaining evening for the whole family! It's also the opportunity to see a work in progress and to give helpful feedback to the writers of a new musical.

The staged reading of Punchinello is set for Friday and Saturday nights, March 16 and 17, with a 7:30 p.m. curtain, in Wallace Chapel at Christ Church Nashville, 15354 Old Hickory Boulevard. (Tickets are $10, $5 for children under 12.)


STAGE TUBE: Laura Matula Sings 'Can You Unbreak a Heart' From Punchinello
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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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