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CRITICS' CHOICE: It's A Big Weekend Onstage

Blackbird Theatre unveils its "magnum opus" Friday night - Myth, the musical - at Hillsboro High School, while Murfreesboro's Center for the Arts opens its production of West Side Story and Lakewood Theatre presents the comedy Play On! Other shows - like Bring It On, The Musical, Mary Poppins and Smoke On The Mountain - continue their runs this weekend, while we say goodbye to Nobody's Perfect at Chaffin's Barn and Robertson County Players' Fiddler On The Roof. Cumberland County Playhouse celebrates its 50th birthday - there's gold in them there hills up in Crossville - and Studio Tenn welcomes supporters for its annual One Night Only event in Franklin!

Down in Franklin, Sondra Morton, Jayme Smith and co. (that would be Act Too) stages their company's latest work at the historic Franklin Theatre - The Sound of Music - starring Kimberly Rye as Maria, Cameron Bortz as Rolf and the inimitable Matt Baugher as Georg Von Trapp. Check it out!

And Actors Bridge and Sideshow kick off Sideshow Fringe 2015 tonight, leading up to a huge weekend of entertainment and inspiration!

Led by program director Jessika Malone and technical director Mitch Massaro - and named by CNN as one of "most intriguing festivals" in the "Best of the U.S." - Nashville's Sideshow @ Actors Bridge unveils its fifth annual slate of performances for July 16-19.

Founded in 2011, The Sideshow Fringe Festival unites progressive art and adventures audiences featuring theatre and related live presentations with a special emphasis on innovative formats. Theatre, dance, music, puppetry, aerial arts, spoken word, comedy, and more are showcased in this multi-venue setting with special free outdoor events and family friendly offerings.

According to Malone, performances range in running time between 10 and 90 minutes, which she said should encourage audience members to see multiple shows in one day or to visit restaurants and merchants while watching street performances and participating in hands-on art making.

Performances in the 2015 festival, Massaro says, will take place at Belmont's Black Box Theatre and the Actors Bridge Studio with secret "pop-up" performances in unexpected locales. Tickets are $15 (50% of all box office proceeds return directly to participating artists) and may be purchased at www.sideshowfringe.com or at all festival venues. A complete performance schedule and further information is available at www.sideshowfringe.com.

RETURING FAN FAVORITE EVENTS: The 5th annual First Time Stories @ The Fringe (now a monthly happening at Actors Bridge that first began at the inaugural fringe in 2011), #ThrowbackThursdayLive, (where Nashville notables read from their teenage journals and celebrate their former selves in a multimedia atmosphere that includes MTV Unplugged style renderings of once popular songs), Script Happens (our annual short play-making project where teams converge to devise and debut a new script within the festival's timeframe).

INCREDIBLE AERIAL PERFORMANCE: Aerial is exploding in the Black Box this summer with a trio of groups taking to the sky and challenging our perceptions of what's possible. Acts include five-time festival featured artists FALL presenting a new live collaboration with local harpist Timbre and her band, Suspended Gravity presenting Evolution In The Air featuring a variety of circus apparatus work as well as ground performance, and Altitude featuring frequent Aerial Fabricators collaborator Lizard Walker and her mother, Thérèse Keegan, accompanied by aerial violinist Alicia Enstrom, Melinda Lio on the traditional Chinese pipa, and Karen Renée Robb, sound healer and founder of Frame Drum Wisdom.

FAMILY FRIENDLY EVENTS: A block of four unique programs that are appropriate for the whole family on Saturday afternoon will run the spectrum of imagination, Malone says. Acts include SENSE Theatre (pairing children on the Autism Spectrum with their typically developing peers to create original theatrical offerings), Zero The Clown (including mask, French mime, and American Vaudeville stylings paired w/ music and dance), local alternative classical ensemble Chatterbird (performing a favorites from their inaugural season by as well as a few new works for flute/recorded theremin and a tribute to jazz great Charlie Haden) and the return of the wildly successful puppet duo, Sailors & Maidens, who will present their delightful Shmergas Bird (a collection of whimsical original short form vignettes of puppetry, music, dance and a signature blend of comedy and sweetness to invite the audience into their world of play).

NATIONAL ACTS: Sideshow presents "the best of what the national fringe festival touring circuit has to offer" and this year opens the Actors Bridge studio to both Tricia Rose Burt and her smash hit solo show fresh from NYC Fringe acclaim, How To Draw A Nekkid Man as well as Dr. Pete Ludovice's New Orleans Fringe favorite, Feel The Power of The Dork Side, which incorporates science and stand-up comedy in a unique blend of fun theatricality.

FRINGEY FUN: The fringe is all about exploding the box and innovating new ways of working, and will feature the world premieres of new experimental work such as The Guardian: I Am Edward Snowden (created by local performance artist, Matthew Marcum, based on major media coverage on the Snowden revelations) and the hilarious BEING BETTER AT BEING: TOOLS TO TRANSFORM YOUR MODERN LIKE - AN INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE SYMPFORIUM

After four critically acclaimed seasons, Nashville's Blackbird Theater (winner of the 2013 First Night Award for outstanding theater company) opens what company founders Greg Greene and Wes Driver call their "magnum opus," the new musical Myth, opening this Friday night, July 17, running through July 26 at the Hillsboro High School Theatre in Green Hills.

Set in the world of Greek mythos, this is the story of how and why the gods were cast from Mt. Olympus. Written by Blackbird founders Driver and Greene, with music composed by Michael Slayton, chair of composition at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music, Myth will have its world premiere in Music City USA, featuring an all-star cast of Nashville performers.

The show's plotline is described by its creators: "The princess of Athens and the prince of Thebes are to be married. But an oracle portends doom. The mortals challenge the Fates. The gods intervene. And what follows is an impassioned tale of surprising romances, unlikely heroes, and, of course, the incomparable gods in all of their majestic, decadent glory."

Since its founding in 2010, Blackbird Theater has earned critical and audience acclaim, gaining a reputation for theatrically and intellectually adventurous works in collaboration with some of the region's top theatre talent, presenting rarely produced plays and musicals by some of the stage's greatest writers and creating bold original works.

"Finally staging Myth is a bucket list achievement for Wes, Michael, and me," says Greene, Blackbird's managing director. "We've poured years of thought, scripting, and scoring into this show, and in many ways, it's the epitome of what we've done with this theatre company. The fact is, we created Blackbird so we could create Myth."

"This is undoubtedly our most ambitious production yet," says Driver, artistic director. "It's an epic musical that explores the wondrous world of Greek mythology while winding between outrageous comedy and harrowing tragedy. Our hope is that the production not only entertains and ultimately inspires but proves that original works of this scale can be successfully developed with the talented collaborators, actors, and theatre artists we have right here in Nashville."

Among the principals for Myth are: Corrine Bupp, Darci Wantiez, Winston Harless, Ronnie Meek, Tony Nappo, Brad Brown, Scott Stewart, Will Miranne, Patrick Kramer, Preston Orr, Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva, Caroline Davis, David Arnold, JJ Rodgers, Mallory Mundy, Kristopher Wente, Catherine Birdsong and Tadd Himelrick. Members of the chorus include Ashley Glore, Taylor Chew, Melissa Garner Campbell, Morgan Lamberth, Leslie Marberry, Elizabeth Wuellner, LaDarra Jackel, Jocelyn Kasper, Tyler Osboure, Randal Cooper, Scott Patrick Wilson, Elijah Wallace, Jess Darnell and Brad Forrister.

Tickets for this limited engagement of Myth are available at blackbirdnashville.com. This production is recommended for ages 13 and above.

Logan Dowlen

Lakewood Theater Company presents its third show of the 2015 season with Play On!, opening Friday, July 17, and running through Sunday, August 2.

Directed by Kurt Grabenstein, Play On! is described as the hilarious story of a theater group trying desperately to put on a play despite the maddening interference of a haughty author who keeps revising the script. Act I is a rehearsal of the dreadful show, Act II is the near disastrous dress rehearsal, and the final act is the actual performance in which anything that can go wrong does. When the author decides to give a speech on the state of the modern theatre during the curtain calls, the audience is treated to a madcap climax to a thoroughly hilarious romp.

Play On! stars Kathleen Jaffe as Aggie, the put-upon stage manager; Heather Alexander as Gerry, the frazzled director; Patrick Goedicke and Meigie Mabry as Henry and Polly Benish, the theatre's power couple; Elise Jardine as Smitty, the teenager missing her exams for the show; John Carpenter as Saul Watson, the snarky and devious villain; Logan Dowlen as Billy, the dashing leading man; Samantha Brannoch as Violet, the beautiful ingénue; Doreen Gibson as Louise, the deadpan sound and lighting tech; and Drew Ann Borsos as Phyllis Montague, the fledgling author with a taste for interfering all the time.

Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $14 for adults, and $10 students/seniors/military. Tickets can be obtained at www.TicketsNashville.com; a limited amount of reservations are available through the Lakewood box office at 615-847-0934. Group rates are available. Lakewood Theatre Company is located at 2211 Old Hickory Blvd., Old Hickory.

Crystal Kurek and Corey Shadd

Murfreesboro's The Center for the Arts will present West Side Story, the revolutionary Tony Award-winning production that forever changed American musical theater, July 17-August 2.

A modern retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet set on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1950s, West Side Story is the heartbreaking tale of Tony and Maria, star-crossed young lovers caught in a turf war between rival gangs. The well-known musical score full of Latin and Jazz-infused songs includes "Somewhere," "Tonight," "I Feel Pretty," and "America." West Side Story premiered on Broadway in 1957 and is the result of a collaboration between three theatrical luminaries, the book by Tony Award-winner Arthur Laurents, music by Tony and Grammy award-winner Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Tony, Grammy, Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winner Stephen Sondheim. The smash hit 1961 film version of West Side Story won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and catapulted the musical to the center of the national conversation. The Center for the Arts' production is directed by Kim Powers, with musical direction by Sam Hagler and choreography by Julie Wilcox.

Appearing as the iconic couple are Corey Shadd as Tony, who audiences just enjoyed as Ted Hinton in Bonnie and Clyde, and Crystal Kurek as Maria. Dakota Green will be portraying Riff, the leader of the Jets, while Timothy Taylor plays Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. Emily Park-Highfield is the fiery Anita. The 37 person cast is comprised mostly of local teenagers and college performers, which excites director Kim Powers: "These kids are the age of the gang members in this show. Watching them learn what this show is really about and how relevant it is to today's race relations has been very rewarding."

West Side Story will run July 17-August 2, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $13 for Seniors, Students and Military and $11 for Children age 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased on the Center's website at www.boroarts.org, by calling (615) 904-2787, or by stopping by The Center during business hours.

Studio Tenn's 2015 One Night Only fundraising gala is set for Saturday night in Liberty Hall at The Factory at Franklin. Very limited tickets are still available, and you can get them at www.StudioTenn.com or by calling (615) 541-8200. A significant portion of the ticket price is tax-deductible.

It was just announced that Diana DeGarmo and Melinda Doolittle have been added to the evening's already stellar lineup. Quickly becoming one of the hottest events in Williamson County, the variety show-style program features many beloved musical numbers by surprise special guests, company members and Studio Tenn's principals, Matt Logan and Jake Speck.

The list of performers is usually kept secret, but in the past the line-up has included Eden Espinosa and Sean MacLaughlin. On his Facebook page today, Matt Logan mentioned seeing Aaron Lazar sing from Carousel last night...so perhaps that means something?

Open bar and heavy hors d'oeuvres are included with every ticket purchase. New this year is a silent auction that launched online July 3 and will continue through the evening of One Night Only. Have you ever wanted to own a prop from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, get a personal skype concert from JOHNNYSWIM, or wear Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, as worn by Diana DeGarmo in the starring role? These items, and many more, can be yours by bidding today. You do not have to be present to win.

Jake Speck said One Night Only is a uniquely interactive Studio Tenn experience. "For us, it's an opportunity to engage with our patrons in a different, more personal way," he said. "We want to show them a good time, of course, but also to share successes and express our gratitude for their continued support, because we wouldn't be here without it."

Tickets start at $150 for row seating. Individual table seats are $250.

"Brrr...it's cold in here...must be some Toros in the atmosphere..." If I had a dollar for every time I've uttered that phrase to my dog, Jessie, when coming in from a cold walk outside during the wintertime! And nothing makes me think of one of my favorite movies more so than that one line from the film version of Bring It On, now brought to life as a musical that's running at Woodbury's Arts Center of Cannon County.

Bring It On: The Musical takes you on a high-flying journey through friendship, forgiveness and determination. Bring It On: The Musical tells the story of the challenges and unexpected bonds formed through the thrill of extreme competition. With a colorful crew of characters, an exciting fresh sound and explosive dance with aerial stunts, this all new story is sure to be everything you hoped for and nothing like you expected.

Here's some quotage from my review: "The musical's story is not a retread of the movie plot, but instead offers a whole new group of characters dealing with the challenges of high school life while ruthlessly competing for cheerleading glory. Torrence and company have made way for Campbell, Danielle, Skylar and Randall. With its Tony Award-laden creative team turning the story into a Broadway musical, you can rest assured that the dialogue is clever and quick-witted, yet easily understood by audience members of every age group; and the songs are upbeat, robust and do what showtunes need to do (for the most part): propel the story along its way. Let's face it, when you read a program and see dozens of musical numbers listed it can be daunting. However, the pace never slows in Bring It On, the Musical and even before you know it, you're at the show's upbeat, infectious finale ("I Got You").

"Certainly, there are some ridiculous plot points - it's musical theater, people, not rocket surgery - but they just add to the fun and games happening onstage. The characters have just enough edge to keep you on the edge of your seat, engaged in the various and sundry antics of the characters, oftentimes laughing out loud in appreciation of the onstage hijinks.

"Director Chelsea Toombs - along with her musical director Scott Willis and her team of choreographers - have found the right mix of actors, voices, gymnasts to bring the show to life with elan. Cheyenne Clark makes her theater debut as Campbell (she'd sort of be Torrance); a capable singer and tumbler (she unleashes some admirable gymnastic skills late in act two) who does a decent enough acting job, but who we suspect will be even better as the show's run continues for the next two weekends. Lipscomb University theater alumna Shawna Rayford is cast opposite her as her nemesis Danielle, the queen bee of gritty, inner-city Jackson High School. The pair's rivalry seems genuine, which makes their ultimate rapprochement all the more believable. Rayford delivers her songs with confidence and shows off some impressive dance moves in the process."

To get tickets, call The Arts Center of Cannon County at (615) 563-2787 or go to www.artscenterofcc.com.

Avenue Q - described as a "puppet-filled comedy [which] follows a group of 20- and 30-somethings seeking their purpose in big-city life," continues its run at Murfreesboro Little Theatre through Sunday, July 19.

Winner of the Tony Award "Triple Crown" for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, Avenue Q is part flesh, part felt, part fur, and packed with heart, the laugh-out-loud musical tells the timeless story of a recent college grad named Princeton who moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out on Avenue Q. He soon discovers that although the residents seem nice, it's clear that this is not your ordinary neighborhood. Together, Princeton and his new-found friends struggle to find jobs, dates, and their ever-elusive purpose in life.

Filled with gut-busting humor and a delightfully catchy score, not to mention puppets, Avenue Q is a truly unique show that has quickly become a favorite for audiences everywhere. Although the show addresses humorous adult issues, it is similar to a beloved children's show; a place where puppets are friends, Monsters are good and life lessons are learned.

For reservations, go to www.mltarts.com for further details.

Opening weekend was successful for the Tullahoma cast of Rent as PACT (Performing Arts for Children and Teens) presents its version of Jonathan Larson's iconic musical, which opened last Friday night and continues through Sunday, July 19. Local pastors and some parents had expressed concern about the show's adult themes, but the production company vowed to soldier on and give audiences a top-notch show.

PACT implores audiences to "Come see Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer Prize-winning modern retelling of the classic Italian opera, La Boheme at South Jackson Civic Center." Robert Allen directs and Erica Petersen is music director.

Set in New York City during the AIDS epidemic of the late 20th century, Rent follows a group of eight young adults attempting to embrace the bohemian lifestyle. Follow them through a year of their lives as they encounter love, death, poverty, affliction, and addiction. Featuring a Grammy Award-winning soundtrack including songs such as "Seasons of Love" and "La Vie Boheme," this modern rock opera will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish!

Southern hospitality is served up with a groaning board of traditional culinary delights at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theater, where the Martha Wilkinson-directed Nobody's Perfect wraps up its run with Sunday's matinee on July 19. Her cast features Bonita Allen, Lane Wright and Elizabeth Walsh. Charlie Winton takes on the wig and raiments of Lulabelle Latifah, as the cast and crew unleashes John Mauldin back onto an unsuspecting public.

Here's a sampling from our review: "With a deft hand, Wilkinson stages the rather gentle comedy that focuses on evolving gender roles, replete with a feminist press trying to find new material for its readers, a shy statistician trying to score it big as a writer, a bumbling grandfather who's only slightly pervy, a rebellious teenager who really loves her dad no matter her vocal protests, a successful businesswoman who longs for a romantic attachment and the requisite man in drag playing a middle-aged Southern belle.

"You pair all that with the Barn's groaning board of Southern/country victuals, a genuinely warm greeting from Annie in the box office as you arrive, a broad smile from Cecilia Lighthall as she commands the front desk and hands you off to an actor doing double-duty as host, and a hug from co-owner Janie Chaffin that ensures you're at home, and you won't find an entertainment option more appealing anywhere. Top it off with peanut butter pie or crème brulee (served up by the gracious and attentive Adam Burnett) and you're justthisclose to heaven in West Nashville.

"Nobody's Perfect is not perfect, but then really what is? However, under Wilkinson's guiding influence and the altogether understated, yet wonderfully on-target, performances of her quartet of actors, it nonetheless delivers a pleasant summer's night diversion."

For reservations, call (615) 646-9977; for more information about all of this season's shows at the Barn, go to www.dinnertheatre.com.

Mary Poppins is still flying over the rooftops of London via the sumptuous new production at Cumberland County Playhouse through August 16! This high-flying family musical features delightful songs from the classic Disney film including the Academy Award-winning "Chim Chim Cheree," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Step in Time" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and has been the winner of 44 major theatre awards from around the globe.

Mary Poppins has captivated audiences for generations with its enchanting story, unforgettable songs and dazzling dance numbers. Mary Poppins is the story of a mysterious nanny who magically appears at the Banks household in Edwardian London to care for Jane and Michael Banks. Adventure abounds as she whisks them away to meet dancing chimney sweeps, shopkeepers and an array of colorful characters. Nicole Bégué Hackmann will return to the Playhouse stage as Mary Poppins and Jake Delaney will play Bert.

Nicole Bégué Hackmann has appeared in dozens of Playhouse productions since 2003, including My Fair Lady, Ragtime, LES MISERABLES, The King and I, A Little Night Music, Camelot and many more.Jake Delaney made his Playhouse debut in April as Don Lockwood in Singin' in the Rain.

Playhouse favorites Jason Ross and Lauren Marshall play Mr. and Mrs. Banks. Each of the Banks children will feature two different young actors alternating in the roles. Jane Banks will be played by Sophie Burnett and Sara Swafford, while Simon Berman and Eli Choate will share the role of Michael Banks. Rounding out the cast are Kathryn Berman, Daniel Black, Cory Clark, Kevin Corkum, Jensen Crain, John Dobbratz, Molly Dobbs, DeAnna Etchison, Katherine Walker Hill, Carol Irvin, Lina Lee, Lindsey Mapes, Jennie Nasser, Patty Payne, Kate Louise Prender, Evan Price, Angela Robbins, Michael Ruff, Chaz Sanders, Chance Wall and Weslie Webster.

Tevye, Golde, their daughters and all the other villagers of Anatevka find their way to Springfield this weekened as the Robertson County Players present Fiddler On the Roof at Springfield High School for a two weekend run that wends its way to closing this weekend.

Fiddler On the Roof is directed by Lewis Walling, produced by Danny Atchley, and stars J.R. Suter as Tevye and Lanie Shannon as Golde. Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday, through July 18 at 7 p.m., at Springfield High School Theater. Advance tickets are $15 each and are available now at ticketsnashville.com.


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