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Summer Stages: Dancing in the Streets and Dancing and More in the Theatres in Memphis

Now that Memphis in May has finally bid adieu to the Sunset Symphony, crowned the winners of the barbecue contest,and trod well the welcome mat to the magnficent new Bass Pro Shop, Memphians can look to its theatres, old and new, for diversions of a histrionic nature.

The Orpheum not only is excited about its summer film series, but also has music lovers excited about its July theatre event -- the exhilarating, finger-snapping, coolly choreographed MOTOWN THE MUSICAL, tracing the origins of the "Detroit Sound" and its founder, Berry Gordy. (On a personal note, the first 45 RPM I ever bought was Martha and the Vandellas' "Heat Wave," which endured a turntable marathon and was the first of hundreds of records to follow -- yes, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Four Tops, and, of course, "the girls," the Supremes. I've met the Temptations and danced with Mary Wilson in Tunica. In short, I am a fan.) MOTOWN THE MUSICAL will locate to the Orpheum on the equally musical Beale Street in mid-July.

If an immediate "theatre fix" is what you need, then travel to Midtown and Overton Square. where you can sniff the greasepaint from any of several theatres that are located within walking distance of each other. Through June 21, Circuit Playhouse is holding a SEMINAR, Theresa Rebeck's sharp comedy about a famous novelist whose razor-sharp wit and wisdom rattles and challenges the students under him. Theatre veteran Irene Crist helms the directing chores, and the always-welcome Michael Detroit (himself a teacher) has the choice role of the former writer.

Across Cooper Street, Playhouse on the Square will soon be lifting the spirit (as well as the habit) with its final musical of the season, SISTER ACT, based on the 1992 film blockbuster about a disco diva who hides out in a convent after witnessing a murder. "Deloris Van Cartier" will be rubbing shoulders with nuns from June 17 to July 10. Then, back across the street to Circuit, Lee Breuer's "take" on the myth of Sophocles' Oedipus, THE GOSPEL AT COLONUS, utilizes the music of an African-American gospel church service to portray the journey of Oedipus. Anyone interested in seeing any of the aforementioned Midtown productions can contact either Playhouse or Circuit at

A number of years ago, the the kidnapping and murder of a gay student at the University of Wyoming inspired Moises Kaufman to write the powerful THE LARAMIE PROJECT. A collaboration of the New moon Theatre Company and Emerald Theatre Company will not only stage that play, but its follow-up, 10 YEARS LATER, as it utilizes interviews with citizens and their reactions to effect a collage-like theatrical experience. THE LARAMIE PROJECT, directed by Den Smith, will play from June 5-14 at Theatreworks, 208 Monroe Avenue; and THE LARAMIE PROJECT: 10 YEARS LATER, directed by Gene Elliott, will be performed from June 12-28 at Evergreen Theatre, 1705 Poplar.

Shiny, new Hattiloo Theatre on Cooper Street is also finishing its season with Robert Neblett and David Grapes' tribute to the gifted Nina Simone, SIMPLY SIMONE (there will even be a talkback with cst and director following the 3:00 P.M. performance on June 7th). The musical, featuring such classics as "The Look of Love" and "I Loves You Porgy," will focus on Simone's considerable artistry and personal life.

Farther east, Theatre Memphis will continue to celebrate Cole Porter (KISS ME, KATE is finishing this weekend at Playhouse) with the ever-popular ANYTHING GOES -- and anyone familiar with the strengths of Theatre Memphis already foresees a megahit. Everyone will want to board this ocean liner, especially with the talented director Amy Hanford at the helm -- and those songs! In addition to the title song, you can expect "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "De-Lovely." It's the sort of musical at which Theatre Memphis excels. These sailors and showgirls and gangsters will be tapping away from June 5-28.

That's just a sampling -- there are others. So, if the Memphis heat gets to you this summer, go inside one of these venues, "cool off," and experience a different kind of "heat."

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From This Author Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)