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CRITICS' CHOICE: We Saw What You Did Last Summer

It's another busy theater week in Tennessee, and in Nashville there are an extra 50,000 to 100,000 country music fans jamming up traffic and increasing wait times at local restaurants, thanks to CMA Music Fest, which natives and longtimers will remember as Fan Fair. So while you're steering clear of our version of Broadway in downtown Nashville, which will be teeming with more people than you can shake a stick at (as my mama would say), you should instead make reservations to see some local talent onstage at some of the shows included in our Critic's Choice column today!

After all, we saw what you did last summer and you weren't all that creative. So mix up a mint julep, pour up some iced tea or drink a lot of water -- hydration is key to withstand a humid Tennessee summer -- and see some live theater this week.

Of special note, remember that on Thursday night, there's a new comedy opening at Music City's venerable Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, as Martha Wilkinson directs Nobody's Perfect, which runs through July 19.

For one night only, on Friday night, June 12, you can witness Local's Cut: Edgehill at The Edgehill Cafe, 1201 Villa Place in Nashville. Show time is at 7 p.m. and tickets are $15.

Edgehill stories spanning seven decades come to life on stage in a special one-night-only performance event featuring professional actors, live music, and local fare at the Edgehill Café in order to explore and honor the Edgehill neighborhood. A unique collaboration between neighbors and artists, Local's Cut: Edgehill explodes conventions of what theatre can be or do in our community.

This program/project is funded in part by the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission.

For reservations, go to: www.eventbrite.com/e/locals-cut-edgehill-tickets-17251520763. In addition to the show, you will get a sneak peek at Edgehill Cafe's new menu!

For further details about the project and this show, go to www.localscutnashville.com.

Playing at Franklin's Pull-Tight Theatre is The Dixie Swim Club, by the wonderfully Southern and hilarious trio of Jones/Hope/Wooten. Running through June 20, go to www.pull-tight.com for reservations.

In the show, five Southern ladies celebrate August and their share friendships to leave the trappings and demands of their lives behind and convene at a beach cottage in the Outer Banks of North Carolina to recharge their strong bond.

The Dixie Swim Club looks in on four of those weekends over a 33-year history, catching up with spunky Sheree, overachieving Dinah, pampered Lexie, self-deprecating Vernadette and sweet Jeri as they help keep each other afloat in the sometimes deep end of life's pool. Playwrights Jones, Hope and Wooten fill The Dixie Swim Club with some of their most complex characters in this funny and poignant cap to our season. Lynn Yates and Beth Woodruff lead the cast.

Jim Manning directs ACT 1's production of Bert V. Royal's Dog Sees God, which opened last Friday night and continues through this Saturday night at Darkhorse Theatre...and there's a special midnight show this Friday night.

Here's what I wrote in my review after opening night: "Royal's obvious affection for the characters and for Peanuts is evident: It's easy to see how they might be imagined in his bleak outlook for their future selves. He has each character down pat; in fact, it's as if they've been reimagined in a computer-generated aging technique used by authorities to continue searches for lost or stolen children long after they've been abducted. The result isn't pretty, but it is provocative and even despite its intended shock value, quite thoughtful in its presentation.

Admittedly, perhaps I have given far too much thought to the whole milieu created by Royal, but something happened during the show that made me delve deeper into the show's psyche than I had originally planned. You see, in the play we discover that C.B. (he's really Charlie Brown, but keep that under your hat for intellectual property purposes) has just buried his dog after a particularly horrific episode (Snoopy allegedly ripped Woodstock to shreds in a rabies-fueled tirade so C.B.'s unseen parents had to have him put down). C.B. - played with focused intensity leavened with an almost indescribable lightness by the remarkably versatile Grafton Thurman - then sets off on a journey of discovery, trying to determine who he is, why his friends are so indifferent to his loss and where life will eventually take him."

Manning's cast includes Lipscomb University theater alum Grafton Thurman as CB; Cassie Hamilton as CB's sister; BWW Nashville Theatre Awards winner Justin Boyd as Van; Belmont University alumna Gina D'Arco as Van's sister; Hillary Morris as Marcy; Christopher Heinz as Beethoven; Austin Peay State University alum Steven Howie as Matt; and Morgan Dorris as Tricia.

Curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. for Thursday, Friday and Saturday night performances, with Sunday matinee on June 7 at 2:30 p.m. For further information, including how to buy tickets to a performance, go to www.act1online.com.

Street Theatre Company continues its 10th anniversary season - every show this season is pay-what-you-can at the company's new/old home at Bailey STEM Middle School - with the Nashville premiere of Dogfight, the off-Broadway hit by the contemporary musical theater team of Pasek and Paul.

Dogfight originally opened in New York in 2012 and, after receiving rave reviews and numerous awards, made its way to the London stage in 2014. Following its initial success, regional theaters in both the United States and Europe will be mounting productions of Dogfight this year. Written by Ben Pasek, Justin Paul, and Peter Duchan, Dogfight won the Lucille Lortell award for Best Musical. Set in the 1960s at the start of the Vietnam War, Dogfight takes audiences on a romantic and heartbreaking theatrical journey. On the eve of their deployment, three young Marines set out for one final boys' night of debauchery, partying, and maybe a little trouble.

From my review of the show: "With a musical score that shows the heavy influence of Sondheim-infused theater on contemporary composers, Dogfight seems almost timeless, and certainly the story could be set during any time of war and have much the same impact. But here in America, while we still struggle to define the role of the Vietnam conflict and its aftermath on our nation's psyche and our shared sense of patriotic fervor and confusion about what that undeclared war really meant to each of us, the story is more potent and potentially more devastating. The answers don't come easy...they didn't 40 or 50 years ago...and still today we seem uncertain and somewhat reluctant to seek them out.

"While Eddie, his friends Boland and Berstein and the rest of their band of brothers, engage in a night of debauchery, full of bravado and the brashness of young men about to embark upon a grand adventure, the political ramifications of the conflict in Southeast Asia are just beginning to simmer. It's that four year stretch between Eddie's visits to San Francisco during which public opinion boils over and everyone's preconceived notions of American exceptionalism were first called into question.

"Those socially combustible elements provide the backdrop for what transpires during that initial trip to the city by the bay. As has been Marine tradition for years, Eddie and his friends stage a dogfight, a gathering of the testosterone-fueled young men who have each put $50 in a pot to award to the winner of a misogynistic contest to find the ugliest girl in town. It's on his search for a winning candidate that Eddie meets Rose in a shabby diner and sets out to woo her and convince her to be his date.

Dogfight stars Belmont graduate Jens Jacobson as Eddie Birdlace and recent Nashville transplant Audrey Johnson as Rose, and there's a fresh-faced ensemble of estimable Nashville actors who bring the moving and provocative story to life under Cathy Street's direction.

Dogfight runs June 5-21 at Street Theatre Company's new location in East Nashville, Bailey Middle School. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. Tickets are available by visiting www.streettheatrecompany.org or by calling (615) 554-7414 and prices are pay-what-you-can.

Linda Sue Simmons stars as country icon Patsy Cline as Gaslight Dinner Theatre continues its 15th Anniversary Season with its 69th show with A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline - a musical about the legendary country singer by Dean Regan. The show opened last week at The Renaissance Center in Dickson, running through June 13.

Featuring Linda Sue Simmons (White Christmas; 9 to 5; Sound of Music; Hello, Dolly!; Honky Tonk Angels; Noises Off) in the title role, A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline is a tribute to her spirit and a celebration of the music of her life. Combining flashbacks from WNIC's Little Big Man, played by Curtis LeMoine-Reed (The Andrews Brothers; Memphis; Legally Blond; Spamalot; Little Shop of Horrors), and visiting various venues from Patsy's climb to stardom, the show blends theatre, music and comedy into a magical evening for all audiences.

Simmons and LeMoine-Reed are joined by some of Nashville's hottest musicians as Patsy's band members and backup singers featuring Alex Spann, Adam Wooten, Alec Newman, Tom D'Angelo, Dale Herr, Stephanie Wright and Zane Jordan.

Here's my take on the show after its debut last Thursday: "When I was a little boy, my older sister Charlotte had this huge console stereo with a turntable upon which she'd spin her favorite records and which would, every night of my young life, lull me to sleep to a musical score that featured the biggest musical hits of the day. Obviously, my eclectic musical tastes today can be traced to that experience, my life underscored by a wide variety of artists and songs which can still transport me to another time and place.

"That will also explain my rapturous response to the performance of A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, a dramatized tribute to the country music superstar that opened at Dickson's Gaslight Dinner Theater on Thursday, June 4, running for a much-too-short two weekends at what was once known as The Renaissance Center, but is now called Freed-Hardeman University Dickson (talk about hitting close to home: I grew up fewer than 15 miles from Freed-Hardeman's home campus in Henderson).

"Filled to overflowing with some of Cline's most beloved hit songs (which may lead to your eyes overflowing...if, like me, you remember clearly the night Cline was killed in a plane crash near Camden, Tennessee, in 1963 when I was not yet six years old), A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline will draw comparisons by some to Ted Swindley's Always, Patsy Cline, which introduced the world to the artistry of another woman by the name of Mandy Barnett, who should be venerated along with Cline, what with her beautiful voice and exquisite performances. But somehow, A Closer Walk... somehow seems more personal in its own way - maybe it's because of the intimate nature of the Gaslight's venue - or perhaps it is the remarkable performance of Linda Sue Simmons, who will blow you away in a portrayal that all actors aspire to but are rarely given the opportunity."

Delicious luncheon and dinner buffets begin one hour before show time at the Gaslight Dinner Theatre. Price includes buffet, desserts, beverage and show. Gratuity not included. For reservations, call (615) 740-5600 or go online at www.gaslightdinnertheatre.org.

Meanwhile, in Donelson - at The Larry Keeton Theatre - the classic Broadway musical Guys and Dolls opened last night, running through June 20th at the Senior Center for the Arts, 108 Donelson Pike. Jenny Norris-Light, Tyler Osborne, Hallie Long and Brian Best star in the show, directed and music directed by Ginger Newman, with choreography by Cary Street.

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, the resulting show was a blockbuster during the 1950 Broadway season. Still employing Runyon's style of mixing highly formal language with colloquial slang, Loesser, Swerling and Burrows, created a funny send-up of the gangsters, gamblers, showgirls of New York City's underworld and nightclubs.

Opening night was not without its hiccups, due to the untimely withdrawal of one leading player who had to be replaced, but the resulting performance was remarkably smooth: "Is there anything more magical or more transformative than live theater? Honestly, I can't think of anything which can take you from the depths of despair to the fanciful heights of imagination so quickly - and there certainly is no art form in which things can change so capriciously or quicker, either for good or bad.

"Take The Larry Keeton Theatre's production of Guys and Dolls, for example, directed by Ginger Newman and choreographed by Cary Street. Featuring one of musical theater's most beloved scripts and scores, it's a surefire winner any time it's revived onstage (well, save for that one Broadway revival with Lorelai Gilmore aka Lauren Graham as Miss Adelaide that was pretty much laid waste to by critics) and it takes a hefty amount of flotsam to halt the show. Case in point: Earlier this week, a scant 24-plus hours before opening night at the theater in Donelson, a leading player had to drop out of the production due to family matters beyond his control and a search was on for a last-minute replacement for the role of Sky Masterson.

"Luckily, for Newman and Street - and the remaining three members of the show's quartet of stars, Jenny Norris-Light, Hallie Long and Brian Best - Tyler Osborne was just a phone call away and, in just over 24 hours, the show opened on-time and in-place for what is sure to be a successful run that audiences are, frankly, going to love. Now, that's live theater for you, with all the magic and creativity of which you could dream. On a whim, it seems, circumstances can change, a new window opening when a door closes."

Performances at The Larry Keeton Theatre are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, starting at 7:00 p.m. and Sundays starting at 2:00 p.m. Each performance is preceded by a three-course meal; dinner seating begins at 5:45 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 12:45 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets range from $15 to $28; for specific ticket information, call (615) 883-8375 or at www.thelarrykeetontheatre.org or www.ticketsnashville.com.

The only thing funnier than a Southern funeral is a Southern wedding! Arts Center of Cannon County in Woodbury presents Southern Fried Nuptials, written by Nashville's own Dietz Osborne and Nate Eppler, running through June 13, with curtain at 7:30 p.m.

The charmingly funny Frye family is back and this time they are going to get married. Or maybe not? The engagement of Attie VanLeer and Harline Frye has been on again, off again more times than a drunken frat boy on a mechanical bull. Now half the town has been invited, the dress has been fitted, the flowers have been ordered and the gifts are piling up in the living room. Will they or won't they? You'll have to find out in this hysterical hit comedy from the authors of Southern Fried Funeral.

Directed by Donald Fann and produced by Brittany Goodwin, Southern Fried Nuptials features many familiar faces including Melanie Nistad, Rachel Parker, Brittany Goodwin, Mike Reed, Greg Ray, Candilyn Ford, John Goodwin, Hunter Thaw, Terri Ritter, Bobby Ray and Donna Seage. Ticket prices are $13 with discounts available for seniors and full-time students.

Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets are available now by calling the box office at 615-563-(ARTS)2787 or online at artscenterofcc.com, and (subject to availability) at the door one hour prior to show time.

After 22 years, the ever-popular Smoke on the Mountain returns to Cumberland County Playhouse - Tennessee's Family Theater - and has settled in for a summer run through October 10. And it's a show you definitely don't want to miss - no matter how many times you've seen it, there's always something new and nuanced to find amid the story of the singing Sanders family.

Smoke takes place on a Saturday night in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, and the Reverend Oglethorpe has invited the Sanders Family Singers to provide an uplifting evening of song. The audience becomes the congregation as two dozen traditional and original hymns weave together with stories of witness from family members, along with a healthy dose of laughter.

Leading the 2015 cast are Playhouse favorites Patty Payne as June Sanders, Jason Ross as Mervin Oglethorpe, and Daniel Black as Burl Sanders; among the three of them, they've appeared in well over one thousand performances of Smoke since the show opened in the Adventure Theater in 1994.

The cast also includes Lauren Marshall, who does double duty as Vera Sanders and the show's Music Director. John Dobbratz will appear as Uncle Stanley, with Chance Wall as son Dennis and Ellie Burnett as Dennis's twin sister Denise. CCP favorite Weslie Webster directs the latest installment of the down-home musical classic.

Smoke on the Mountain opens runs through October 10. Call (931) 484-5000 for tickets and information or visit www.ccplayhouse.com.

Also playing at the Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville are Singin' in the Rain, through July 12, which features Jake Delaney, Katherine Walker Hill and Danny Boman; and Mary Poppins, starring Nicole Begue Hackmann in the title role with Jake Delaney as Bert, opens on the Mainstage on June 12.


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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis