CRITIC'S CHOICE: The Shows and Theater Events To Liven Up Your Weekend Plans
It's another busy weekend in Nashville - but when is Music City not packed to the brim with events, concerts, shows, festivals and social/civic affairs? - and we're back with our Critic's Choice recommendations to help you cut through the theatrical flotsam and jetsam to find a cultural/entertainment diversion that's a good fit for your harried lifestyle. Nashville Opera opens its staging of Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock at Noah Liff Opera Center, Way Off Broadway Productions unveils its version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Music Valley Event Center, Street Theatre Company invites you to the see their staging of Lynn Nottage's Sweat at their new venue on Elm Hill Pike and Nashville Rep continues its celebration of 10 years of The Ingram New Works Festival at Nashville Children's Theatre.
Clarksville's Roxy Regional Theatre reveals its upcoming 2019-20 season during their annual event, Happenin' at the Hollemans, slated for Friday evening from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The event's location has been changed in deference to the predicted inclement weather expected to blanket Middle Tennessee over the next couple of days and will instead be held at Miss Lucille's Marketplace, 2231 Madison Street. Executive director Ryan Bowie and his team have a typically stunning event planned for guests as they herald the advent of the company's 37th Anniversary Season.
On Saturday night, students from high schools throughout Middle and East Tennessee will gather at Tennessee Performing Arts Center for the annual presentation of The Spotlight Awards, aka The Nashville High School Musical Theatre Awards. Belmont University alumna and American Idol contestant Piper Jones emcees. The two top winners - for outstanding leading actress and actor - will jet off to NYC later this spring to participate in The Jimmy Awards, the ultimate goal for any high school musical theater types longing for their turn in the spotlight. TPAC and Lipscomb University are co-sponsors of The Spotlight Awards.
In addition, there are many shows back under the lights this weekend that you may not have yet found time to experience from theater companies all over Middle Tennessee. With summer fast approaching, things are truly heating up...
It's the company debut of Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock at Nashville Opera that's been getting the buzziest buzz in local circles of late. Artistic director John Coomes brings together an all-star cast of local theater performers (Galen Fott, Megan Murphy Chambers, Brooke Leigh Davis, Martha Wilkinson, Brian Russell, et al) and opera singers to bring to life Blitzstein's legendary jazz opera that was written in 1937. There are four performances at Nashville Opera's Noah Liff Opera Center: Friday and Saturday, May 10 and 11, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 12 at 4 p.m.
Sung in English, with projected English titles, here's what you need to know about The Cradle Will Rock:
• Once banned for its hot-button social commentary, Marc Blitzstein's landmark jazz opera serves up fast-paced satire in a "satisfying cocktail of classical, pop and musical theatre."
• Commissioned by the Federal Theatre Project and originally directed by Orson Welles, the piece is a caricature of political greed and corruption which created a stir when authorities from the FTP attempted to shut down the premiere by closing the theatre.
• Though he is not as well known to modern audiences, Marc Blitzstein was an important American composer of the 20th Century who influenced the sound of some of the best known composers of his day.
• Leonard Bernstein, who had a longstanding, close friendship with Blitzstein, remarked, "I was tremendously influenced by Marc in everything I wrote for the theater and even some things that weren't."
• Nashville Opera's production showcases some of the best Nashville-based talent, both from opera and in musical theatre.
• Megan Murphy Chambers stars as the Moll, and Galen Fott appears as the antagonist Mr. Mister.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses - Christopher Hampton's acclaimed 1985 play based on the 1782 novel of the same name by Pierre Cholderlos de Laclos - opens as the latest offering from Nashville's Way Off Broadway Productions, running May 10-June 2 at Music Valley Event Center. Directed by Macon Kimbrough, the production stars Barrett Thomas, Cat Arnold, Angela Gimlin, Barbara Hartman, Megan Blevins, Janice Wilbanks Denson, Steph Twomey, Braden Wahl, Daniel Morgan and Hunter Tomsett.
The play's setting is France in the late 18th century - before the revolution - when a fiercely competitive battle is happening between the Marquise de Merteuil (Arnold) and the Vicomte de Valmont (Thomas), romantic rivals who use sex as a weapon no matter the cost, while reveling in their conniving and ultimately devastating games. The tenor of the battle changes, however, with the arrival of the pious Madame de Tourvel (Gimlin) who upends the machinations and manipulations.
Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman led the cast for the 1987 Broadway production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, where it was nominated for the Tony Award for best play. Subsequently, the play was adapted for a critically acclaimed film version the following year, which starred Glenn Close and John Malkovich (and a young Keanu Reeves and Uma Thurman). The film - entitled Dangerous Liaisons - was nominated for seven Oscars, winning three (for best adapted screenplay, best costume design and best production design).
Les Liaisons Dangereuses was last presented onstage in Nashville during Circle Players' 1992-93 season, starring Kaul Bluestone, Tommy Kohl, Harrison Williams, Melissa Carelli, Linda Speir, Liz Kalota and Judy Jackson
Les Liaisons Dangereuses opens May 10 and runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening through June 2. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. for Friday and Saturday night performances (doors will open at 7 p.m.), with Sunday performances will be at 6 p.m. (with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.). Tickets are $10 each and are available online at www.wobnash.org, or at the door prior to each performance. All shows are presented at Music Valley Event Center, 2416 Music Valley Drive, Suite 150, in Nashville near the Gaylord Opryland resort and convention center.
Street Theatre Company's 2019 season continues with the Alicia Haymer-directed production of Lynn Nottage's 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat, opening this weekend and continuing through May 25. Tonight's preview performance precedes tomorrow's opening night.
Filled with warm humor and tremendous heart, Sweat tells the story of a group of friends who have spent their lives sharing drinks, secrets and laughs while working together on the factory floor. But when layoffs and picket lines begin to chip away at their trust, the friends find themselves pitted against each other in a heart-wrenching fight to stay afloat in uncertain economic times.
Haymer, back from last season's critically acclaimed production of Eclipsed, helms the production that stars Alex White, Barry Kennedy Jr., Carl Lowe, Elliott Robinson, Iordanis Ekimogloy, Kay Ayers, Nina Hibbler-Webster and Trin Blakely.
For almost a year, four up-and-coming playwrights have been coming to Nashville every month to develop new projects - from the initial germination of an idea into new plays that promise to challenge audiences and to provoke thought - as part of Nashville Repertory Theatre's innovative Ingram New Works Project.
Lindsay Joelle, Dean Poynor, Riti Sachdeva and R. Eric Thomas, were chosen for the Ingram New Works Project based on their talent, to be certain, but perhaps most compellingly by their creativity and the play they were hoping would emerge from that very earliest idea. Once a month since September, they have visited the creative team at Nashville Rep, which has become their home away from home, to garner the kind of support they needed - from guidance, actors and play workshops, to the conviviality of meals and downtown adventures shared.
Their shared adventures culminate, beginning Wednesday, May 8 with the staged reading of Dean Poynor's The Second Avenue Subway, with the Ingram New Works Festival (continuing through May 18 at Nashville Children's Theatre), when premiere staged readings of their new plays will be presented for audiences over the course of the two-week Festival.
The final weekend of the festival will include the first public look at a brand-new play by Sarah Ruhl, this year's Ingram New Works Fellow. Ruhl, whose plays - from Dead Man's Cell Phone and Eurydice to In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) - have been produced by local theater companies to the acclaim of audiences and critics, alike, is latest in a long line of notable and award-winning American Playwrights who have served as mentors to the emerging playwrights.
Each of the staged play readings will be followed by a talk-back with the playwright, plus a reception where audiences will get to mingle with fellow arts enthusiasts and professionals after the show.
The Ingram New Works Project has put Nashville on the map with the National Theatre community for the quality of new plays that emerge from the Nashville Project, and that have gone on to successful, full productions and have earned critical acclaim.
For further details and showtimes for the 2019 Ingram New Works Festival, go to www.nashvillerep.org.
Read Jeffrey Ellis' interview series The Play's the Thing, with the Ingram New Works fellows Riti Sachdeva, Lindsay Joelle and Dean Poynor:
Multi-talented young theater artists and technicians from 28 Tennessee high schools will put their skills on display this year in hopes of claiming their place in the spotlight as the sixth annual Nashville High School Musical Theatre Awards - aka The Spotlight Awards - are handed out in Nashville on May 11.
Founded in 2013 by Mike Fernandez, dean of Lipscomb's George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts, the awards program is presented now in partnership with the nonprofit Tennessee Performing Arts Center as one of its six arts education programs. Twenty-five high schools that competed in 2018 return to the program, joining three new schools. While the majority are in Middle Tennessee, two East Tennessee schools - Chattanooga Christian School in Hamilton County and Grace Christian Academy in Knox County - are participating again.
Participating schools began last fall submitting their productions and planning for a diverse group of adjudicators - comprised of Lipscomb faculty, TPAC staff and local theater professionals - to attend and review the shows, to look for outstanding performances and to provide valuable feedback.
The program culminates on May 11 with a full day of workshops on the Lipscomb University campus on subjects like improv acting, dance, audition techniques and more, followed by an evening Tony Awards-style ceremony in TPAC's Andrew Jackson Hall. The ceremony is filled with performances, and students are presented with a variety of awards including Outstanding Lead Actor, Outstanding Lead Actress, Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Direction, Outstanding Choreography, Outstanding Musical Direction, Outstanding Design Concept, all-star cast and crew and more.
The Spotlight Awards ceremony on May 11 is open to the public, and general admission tickets are on sale at www.tpac.org, by phone at (615) 782-4040, and at the TPAC Box Office at 505 Deaderick Street.
If a road trip is to your liking, you might consider a jaunt to Crossville for either Forever Plaid (Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.) or Bright Star (Sunday at 2:30 p.m.) at Cumberland County Playhouse. Forever Plaid, directed by Britt Hancock, plays in the Adventure Theatre and is a tune-filled musical revue - a tribute to "the good guys" - starring Justin Burr, Paul Gary, Ross Griffin and Chris Hallowes. The Tennessee premiere of Bright Star (the Steve Martin-Edie Brickell musical, with a bluegrass/Americana flair) is directed by CCP producing director Bryce McDonald (with musical direction by Lauren Marshall and choreography by Jensen Crain-Foster) and stars Christine Rowan as Alice Murphy, with Hallowes, Griffin, Hancock, Burr and the lovely DeAnna Etchison lending expert, awe-inspiring support. Both productions are more than worth the price of a tickets - and the drive through the beautiful Tennessee hills makes it a wonderful respite from the craziness of the real world.
Read the Forever Plaid cast's Friday 5(+1) interviews: /nashville/article/FRIDAY-5-1-Cumberland-County-Playhouses-FOREVER-PLAID-Debuts-Tonight-in-Crossville-20190329
Tennessee Women's Theater Project's revival of the most popular show in company history - SISTAS the Musical - continues this weekend at the Z. Alexander Looby Theatre. SISTAS the Musical's story introduces five women who are part of an African-American family, and features popular music from Billie Holiday to Beyoncé. TWTP Founder and Artistic Director Maryanna Clarke directs the production, which was first staged by the company in 2017 to many sold-out audiences.
Lisa Graham (Gloria) and Brittany Nelson (Heather) return from the original 2017 cast, and are joined in 2019 by LaToya Gardner (Simone), Shonka Dukureh (Roberta), and Aija Penix (Tamika). SISTAS the Musical follows five women on a historical, emotional and familial journey as they prepare to honor their recently departed family matriarch. Three sisters, Roberta, Gloria, and Simone, along with Tamika (Simone's teenage daughter) and sister-in-law Heather, have gathered to choose a song to sing at their Grandma Alice's memorial service that night. Searching through Grandma's attic, they share memories and music, along the way tracing the relationship of Black women and popular song. The music ranges from the blues divas of the 1930's through the Motown sound of the 60's, to the empowerment of the 90's with songs including "Oh, Happy Day," "R.E.S.P.E.C.T," "I Will Survive," "Tyrone," "I am Not My Hair" and "A Woman's Worth."
The company offers a special Mother's Day discount for the matinee performance at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 12. Online purchasers who enter the discount code MOMDAY will receive $3 off the regular ticket price. Tickets can be purchased online at www.twtp.org or at the box office one hour before show time. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone (615) 681-7220.
Read Jeffrey Ellis' review of Sistas the Musical: /nashville/article/BWW-Review-Tennessee-Womens-Theater-Projects-Stunning-Revival-of-SISTAS-THE-MUSICAL-20190504
Out at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, the company's production of Listen to Your Mother comes to a close this Sunday, with an apropos Mother's Day performance of the show that captures some heartwarming and provocative moments of parenting. Directed by Joy Tilley Perryman, (who appears to deliver her wonderful monologue, "I Am Not A Mother") the cast features some of Nashville's favorite performers, including Layne Sasser, Molly Breen, Sawyer Wallace, Kim Nygren, Amber Boyer, Sheleana Walden, Vicki White, CJ Walton, Jenny Norris, Scott Stewart, Shawn Whitsell and Mileah Milstead.
From the original live storytelling phenomenon that "gave motherhood a microphone," Ann Imig founded Listen To Your Mother with a show at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, on Mother's Day 2010. She and 11 other local writers read their original true stories of motherhood before an audience of 300 people, according to a story on the show's website. The show ultimately grew beyond the confines of that one theater, to be performed throughout the world.
Read Jeffrey Ellis' review of Listen to Your Mother: /nashville/article/BWW-Review-Chaffins-Barns-Timely-and-Timeless-LISTEN-TO-YOUR-MOTHER-20190427
Read Jeffrey Ellis' Mama Knows Best interview series with the cast of Listen to Your Mother: