CRITICS CHOICE: We Could Make Believe

By: Nov. 06, 2015
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Halloween's all done in, there are still three weeks ahead before we officially give thanks, and Christmas - and all its accompanying frenzy and frivolity - is about seven weeks away! So what's there to do for all the theatrical types jonesing for a trip to make believe? Plenty! Theater companies all over middle Tennessee are showing off their best and brightest, with a number of eagerly anticipated shows opening this weekend and/or continuing from their earlier opening nights and next Tuesday there's a sparkling new Broadway musical swinging through Music City to entertain you...

Meanwhile, we are in the planning stages for Midwinter's First Night (Sunday, January 10, 2016 - for the love of God, where is the time going people?), which will include the presentation of the BWW Nashville Awards (the nomination period has come to an end, and voting starts next week) and the eagerly anticipated announcement of First Night's Top 10 of 2016 (bribes are encouraged and appreciated). Justin Boyd, Britt Byrd, Katherine Morgan and Taylor Novak join me to host the event, which will include a performance by 2013 First Night Honoree Chambers Stevens, who will be in town with his latest one-man show (It's Who You Know) and the cast of Circle Players' Sister Act will give you a tantalizing glimpse of their show that will open later that week! Kudos to the ever-helpful and multi-talented Michael Adcock, who provides the snazzy Midwinter artwork.

Here, gentle readers, are our much-considered suggestions for immersing oneself in something stageworthy over the coming days:

Among the most anticipated openings of the season is ACT 1's production of August: Osage County, directed by Bradley Moore and opening this weekend at Darkhorse Theater where it will run for three weekends (for two Wednesday nights during the run, November 11 and 18, ACT 1 will presents three one-act plays at Darkhorse), featuring a stellar cast of local actors.

Tracy Letts' acclaimed play about a dysfunctional family coming to terms with one runs through November 21, and is ACT 1's second show of the 2015-16 season. In Letts' play, the mystery of their missing father brings three sisters to the home of their mother, Violet an acid-tongued, pill-popping cancer patient. Daughters Barbara, Karen and Ivy - along with their significant others and various other kinfolk - feel the full force of their dysfunctional matriarch's venom, as Violet tells every one of them exactly what she thinks of them.

Director Moore had assembled a reputable group of storytellers/actors to bring this story of family dysfunction to life onstage, including Debbie Kraski as Violet Weston, Layne Sasser as Mattie Fae Aiken, David Arnold as Charlie Aiken, Dietz Osborne as Bill Fordham and Cat Arnold as Barbara Fordham. Completing Moore's ensemble are Rob Wilds, Taylor Novak, Jenna Pryor, Jess Miller, Elizabeth Ayers Turner, Dollie Mayfield, Gerald Pitts and Kurt Jarvis.

For ticket information and other details, go to www.act1online.com. August: Osage County is intended for mature audiences.

Directed by Melissa Bedinger Carrelli and starring Caroline Davis as Emily Dickinson, The Belle of Amherst is a theatrical exploration of the private life of poet Emily Dickinson, playing for nine performances November 6-22, at The Filming Station downtown.

Presented by In Another Life and Maverick Entertainment Group in association with Genuine Human, The Belle of Amherst will play three weekends: November 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees begin at 2:30 p.m.

A true nonconformist, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) is recognized as one of the finest, most influential and singular voices in the English language. Drawing from her poems, diaries and letters, playwright William Luce's one-character show (which premiered in 1976) brings Dickinson to life by using a stream-of-conscious flow of prose and verse. Fifty-three at the play's introduction, the notoriously reclusive Dickinson welcomes the audience to her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, and reveals her longing to become a famous poet, shares recipes and small-town gossip, and paints lyrical portraits of her family. The twists and turns of her narrative include childhood flights of fancy, reactions to literary criticism, her naturalist view of the infinite Universe, and, ultimately, her acceptance of Immortality.

As she wrote in one of her many letters, "Pardon my sanity. Pardon my jubilation in Nature, my terror of midnight, my childlike wonder at love, my white renunciation. Nothing more do I ask than to share with you the ecstasy and sacrament of my life."

The practically perfect in every way Mary Poppins flies into the Arts Center of Cannon County in Woodbury this weekend for a three week run. Directed by Allison Hall, with musical direction by Haley Ray and choreography by Regina Wilkerson-Ward, this family musical features the delightful songs from the popular Disney film including "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidcious" and "Chim Chim Cheree."

Starring Alice Matlock Clements and Scott Willis, Mary Poppins is the winner of 44 major theatre awards from around the globe, Mary Poppins has captivated audiences for generations, and now the enchanting story, unforgettable songs and breathtaking dance numbers will dazzle and delight theatre goers of all ages. Believe in the magic of Mary Poppins and discover a world where anything can happen if you let it! Performances run November 6-21. Call (615) 563-2287 for tickets.

Mary Hutchens, last seen onstage as Fiona in Shrek the Musical for Dickson's The Renaissance Players, tonight debuts as Eliza Doolittle in Murfreesboro Little Theatre's production of My Fair Lady, running through November 22.

My Fair Lady is a classic story, told with an incredibly rich and memorable score, filled with laughs, tears and - at long last - love! Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (which itself is based upon Greek mythological figure Pygmalion), authors and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Lowe crafted this beloved musical which revolves around poor cockney Eliza Doolittle, a feisty flower girl, and egotistical Professor Henry Higgins, who wagers that he can pass her off as a lady in six months, because all that separates the social classes just happens to be his specialty - speech!

Directed by theatre veteran Melvin C. Spring, with musical direction and accompaniment by MLT President Charlie Parker, Andy Ford stars as Henry Higgins, with Hutchens making her MLT debut as Eliza Doolittle. My Fair Lady features Perry Poston as Colonel Pickering, Zach Kelley as Freddy, Rob DeHoff as Alfred P. Doolittle, Rae Ellyn Kelley as Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, Janice Denson as Mrs. Pearce, Heather Gardner as Mrs. Higgins, Steven Luster as Harry, and Jacob Kight as Jamie. Rounding out the cast are Alyssa Brangenburg, Alex DeHoff, Aylee Gardner, and Raeley Underwood.

Catherine Birdsong, Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva, Darci Wantiez and Stephanie Jones Benton star in Springhouse Theatre Company's production of The Marvelous Wonderettes, running through November 15, in the company's Black Box Theatre in Smyrna.

Take a journey with The Marvelous Wonderettes and enjoy an evening of the music of the 1950s and '60s. You'll be caught up in the nostalgia and theatricality of the entertaining musical review, which is a kind of salute to the girl groups of that bygone era. Make no mistake about it, this stellar cast will knock your socks off. Directed by Birdsong, who co-stars her powerhouse trio of fellow divas. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. November 6, 7, 13 and 14, with 3:30 p.m. matinees on both November 8 and 15.

Bullets Over Broadway, the recent Broadway musical based on the Woody Allen film of the same name (and featuring Allen's script for the tale of mobsters and chorus girls on the Great White Way), settles in for an eight-performance run at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, opening Tuesday, November 10 and running through Sunday, November 15.

Written by Woody Allen (Death Defying Acts, Writer's Block) and based on the screenplay by Allen and Douglas McGrath for the 1994 film, Bullets Over Broadway tells the story of an aspiring young playwright newly arrived on Broadway in 1920s New York who is forced to cast a mobster's talentless girlfriend in his latest drama in order to get it produced Bullets Over Broadway features Michael Williams as "David Shayne," Emma Stratton as "Helen Sinclair," Jeffrey Brooks as "Cheech," Bradley Allan Zarr as "Warner Purcell," Michael Corvino [who last season performed in Nashville Opera's production of Florencia en el Amazonas) as "Nick Valenti," Hannah Rose Deflumeri as "Ellen," Rick Grossman as "Julian Marx," Jemma Jane as "Olive Neal," and Rachel Bahler as "Eden Brent."

It's one of the most eagerly anticipated musicals in the 2015-16 Broadway at TPAC season, it's an escapist and old-fashioned musical that's filled with high-spirited music and dancing - guaranteed to delight and to entertain, we are promised by those in the know.

Nashville Children's Theatre acclaimed revival of Charlotte's Web, starring Jamie Farmer, Shawn Knight, Brian Russell, Eric Pasto-Crosby, Amanda Card and David Compton bring the E.B. White classic to life through December 6.

White's Charlotte's Web has been named "the best American children's book of the past two hundred years" by the Children's Literature Association. NCT's acclaimed stage version of this timeless story has won the hearts of children and their families like no other play in our repertoire. We welcome Fern, Charlotte, Wilbur, and Templeton back to our stage every few years, inviting new generations of children and their families to share this remarkable story together, told as only NCT can tell it.

It is deep in the early, just before dawn, and Fern's delightful little runt pig, Wilbur, appears to be headed for the dinner table - and not in a good way - when he is saved through the remarkable literary efforts of a spider named Charlotte. Wilbur may be "Terrific," and he certainly is "Some Pig," but it is up to Charlotte to tell it to the world. This long time family classic is a beautiful story of friendship and sacrifice, and in Nashville Children's Theatre's acclaimed production, when that wonderful spider sets about her devoted work, you will believe in the miracle of Charlotte's Web.

For details, go to www.nashvillechildrenstheatre.org!

Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods winds up its run this weekend on the stage of Collins Alumni Auditorium on the campus of Nashville's Lipscomb University, featuring some of our favorite young actors in an entertaining production helmed by Scott Baker.

Scott Baker directs one of Sondheim's most popular stage works: A Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and an Oscar-nominated film in 2014, Into The Woods intertwines the plots of Brothers Grimm fairy tales, bringing them together for a timeless yet relevant piece and a rare modern classic. Enchantingly comedic with a dark twist, the story brings together everyone's favorite characters from "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Rapunzel" and "Cinderella," among many others. Will the Baker and his wife get their wish to have a child? Can Cinderella attend the King's Festival, and can Jack feed his family with riches plundered from atop the beanstalk? Will Little Red arrive at Granny's house? When the Baker and his wife learn that they cannot have a child because of a Witch's curse, the two set off on a journey that sees that everyone's wish is granted, but the consequences of their actions return to haunt them later with disastrous results.

Kari Smith (whom we first reviewed in a 1989 production of Annie at Nashville Playhouse...does that scare you as much as it does me?) stars as The Witch, backed up by a bevy of extraordinary young actors, including Emily Marie Hughes, Jonah Jackson, Sarah Zanotti, Scott Patrick Wilson, Scout Pittman, Hunter Martin, Brooke Ferguson, Bekah Purifoy, MacKenzie Lewis, Elijah Wallace, Ann Marie Bagge - the list of impressive talents goes on and on...Randy Craft is musical director and Kari's the choreographer. You won't want to miss it!

From our review: "If you need something to prod you toward making reservations to see the Lipscomb University's staging of the near-legendary Into the Woods - although we find it hard to believe anyone could not want to hear that wondrous score once more - we are happy to give you that prompt: Sarah Zanotti's performance as The Baker's Wife is extraordinarily evocative and deeply moving, to be certain. But it is her lovely, expressive voice that sets her performance apart from others we've seen - and which proves that no matter how well you know a character or how impressed you have found other portrayals to be, there is still much drama and theatricality to be mined from The Baker's Wife."

Performance dates continue through Saturday, November 7 at 7:30 p.m.

Circle Players' production of John Steinbeck's literary classic Of Mice and Men, continues this weekend at Nashville's Z. Alexander Looby Theatre, with direction by Daniel DeVault and Heather Vaughn Alexander. It stars Mitchell Stevenson as George and Tony Nappo as Lennie, the two migrant workers and pals whose woeful life and tragic experiences have made Steinbeck's novel - and its subsequent interpretations - among the best-loved tales found in all of American arts and letters.

Other cast members include Eric Butler, Morgan Fairbanks, Joseph Lovell, Ethan Treutle, Nick Boggs, Ron Veasey, Christian McLaurin and Craig Hartline. Of Mice and Men runs through November 15. For tickets and further information, go to www.CirclePlayers.net

From our review: "Playing at Nashville's Z. Alexander Looby Theatre, in a production co-directed by Heather Alexander and Daniel DeVault for Circle Players, Of Mice and Men is a still effective, even moving, literary work. It continues to challenge viewers as Steinbeck's leading characters George Milton and Lennie Smalls strive to eke out a living in spite of the harshness of the world in which they live. But the source material shows signs of aging in Circle's production; in short, it is very much the product of its time and place. Contemporary audiences may blanch at the naked truth as told in Of Mice and Men: Women are creatures to be disdained, operating solely on their feminine wiles with which they entrap men unable to shrug off their carnal desires, men who succumb to their baser instincts in an effort to fulfill some primal need to somehow find intimacy in their lives; and African-Americans are objects of derision, considered wild and socially unacceptable in the brusquely unyielding world of their Caucasian bosses."

Continuing at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre is Alone Together, directed by Lydia Bushfield. Starring Charlie Winton and Bonita Allen, the show opened a couple of weeks ago. You can call (615) 646-9977 for reservations. In addition to the aforementioned Winton and Allen, the cast includes Brett Cantrell, Austin Olive, Andy Griggs and Corinne Bupp. Cantrell, Bupp and Winton were last onstage at the Barn in Arsenic and Old Lace.

Opening last night and continuing through next weekend, N&XT presents Manuscript at Gallery Luperca, 604 Gallatin Avenue, Suite 212, in Nashville, starring Parker Arnold as David, Jesse W. Smith as Chris and Sadie Elizabeth Hart as Elisabeth.

In the bedroom of a Brooklyn Heights brownstone, three ambitious college freshmen confront the discovery of an unpublished manuscript that can guarantee success. It's winter break; the parents are out of town; and David is the host of this gathering. His best friend, Chris, is coming over with his new girlfriend from college, Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a famous author and David an aspiring one. They've come to party before a fancy holiday ball. But when Chris makes a run to get their drugs for the evening it becomes clear that David and Elizabeth have a secret history. To make matters worse, Chris returns with shocking news and a stack of pages that will change their lives forever. It appears that their supplier, a famous and famously reclusive author, has died of a drug overdose. After discovering the body, Chris managed to salvage the only copy of his final work from the scene. As the bright young things scrap over what to do with the manuscript, their plotting is by turns hilarious and startlingly cruel. They spin out of control on their manipulative quest for fame and, ultimately, revenge. Little is what it seems, and no one can be trusted as plot twists pile up, and the play hurtles towards a surprise ending.

Manuscript runs through November 14: Thursday-Saturday at 7 p.m. Go to www.nandxt.com for more information.

Daron Bruce once again pushes the envelope and gives his Hume-Fogg Academic High School Theatre Department students the opportunity to challenge themselves in Sweeney Todd School Edition, playing this weekend on Broadway (aka Downtown Nashville).

Directed by 2014 First Night Honoree Daron Bruce, with vocal music direction by Lisa Forbis and choreographed by 2011 First Night Honoree Pam Atha (and with a set by 2012 First Night Star Award winner Jim Manning), Sweeney Todd has become a bloody, worldwide success since being awarded eight Tony Awards (including Best Musical), for its Broadway premiere and has now been adapted for high school performers in Sweeney Todd School Edition. Andrew Forbes and Darby Kolwyck lead the HFA cast.

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler (A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures) crafted a tasty, thrilling, theatrical treat that has simultaneously shocked, awed, and delighted audiences across the world. An infamous tale, Sweeney Todd, an unjustly exiled barber, returns to 19th century London seeking vengeance against the lecherous judge who framed him and ravaged his young wife. The road to revenge leads Todd to Mrs. Lovett, a resourceful proprietress of a failing pie shop, above which he opens a new barber practice. Mrs. Lovett's luck sharply shifts when Todd's thirst for blood inspires the integration of an ingredient into her meat pies that has the people of London lining up, and the carnage has only just begun!

Reserved seats are $13 at the website; general admission seats are $10 for adults, $5 for students and are sold half an hour before curtain. For tickets and other details, go to www.hfatheatre.com.



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