Chris Cooper And Cast Present 'Sublime' Version of [title of show] at MTSU

Patrick Jones, Seth Pratt, Jenna Anderson and Emma Groves Star in Quirky Musical

By: Apr. 03, 2024
Chris Cooper And Cast Present 'Sublime' Version of [title of show] at MTSU
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Chris Cooper And Cast Present 'Sublime' Version of [title of show] at MTSU
Jenna Anderson, Patrick Jones, Seth Pratt
and Emma Groves

During my final semester of college, I was convinced by a classmate to write a weekly column for the school newspaper, as a kind of valedictory experience to cap my work on the staff (which had culminated the semester before with my job as editor-in-chief, during which time I tried all sorts of new ideas including one week of daily publication of Sidelines at Murfreesboro’s Middle Tennessee State University – where at least 50% of everyone in Nashville and the surrounding region have studied at some point in their lives). Writing a weekly column is more difficult than it sounds: Coming up with interesting subjects, writing authoritatively and meeting deadlines when you’ve been up drinking all hours the night before is, I daresay in retrospect, challenging. But with youth comes arrogance and ambition and an assortment of other traits which can muddy your journalistic legacy before it’s even established.

Chris Cooper And Cast Present 'Sublime' Version of [title of show] at MTSU You see, once upon a time, when the well, my well (i.e., repository of words, clever bon mots, charming anecdotes and intriguing reminiscences), appeared to have run dry and I couldn’t find anything interesting to write about, I chose instead to churn out a column about not having anything to write about. It proved too clever by half and the column I turned in, well, to be brutally frank, sucked. Big time. My academic adviser, who had once trumpeted me as the best writer among my classmates, swiftly withdrew his support and the bright future that had once been assured for me was quickly eclipsed by rumors of my somewhat premature demise – a promise revoked, if you will.

So I turned to writing theater criticism – and look where that’s landed me: Reviewing a show that somehow harkens back to that dark period in my past during which I had a deadline and strung 500 or so words together and made people realize I could be just as mediocre as the rest of the journalism majors who would leave institutions of higher learning in the late 1970s to find the job market already drying up, decades before digital media and the internet truly fucked up our career aspirations.

About a quarter century after my personal debacle, a pair of geeky theater types named Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell (who is not Hunter Foster, no matter how frequently I confuse the two Hunters in my faulty memory, which means that Sutton Foster most definitely is not his sister, my insistence notwithstanding) found themselves in a tricky situation not unlike the one I had found myself in way back in the day: A deadline was approaching in three weeks for them to submit a script for the New York Musical Theatre Festival and, without anything in the hopper worthy of submission, they decided to write a new musical on the fly, as it were, about two young men much like themselves (read: exactly like themselves) writing a musical about themselves writing a musical about themselves, etc. And so on and so forth…(it’s not nearly so confusing as this paragraph remains, even after editing).

Chris Cooper And Cast Present 'Sublime' Version of [title of show] at MTSU
Seth Pratt and Patrick Jones

The resulting musical – [title of show] – was chosen for a production at NYMF, had a moderately successful off-Broadway run, which amazingly was followed by a Broadway production during a season in which original musicals were in short supply. And now, thanks to the talents of director Chris Cooper and his equally noteworthy friends at MTSU, [title of show] lives on in a terrifically funny, fluidly paced and sublimely acted, four-performance run in the Deborah Anderson Studio Theatre on the same Murfreesboro campus where my first theater reviews were written.

In their imaginative and creative ways, Mr. Cooper and his promising troupe of thespians not only staged a winning rendition of Mr. Bowen and Mr. Bell’s clever musical, but they also welcome me for a homecoming of sorts without them even knowing it.

Bowen and Bell’s charming show is filled with all sorts of insider information and self-referential theatrical asides that make it the perfect musical for every theater kid and stagestruck geek who’s ever stood in front of a bathroom mirror and given a Tony Awards acceptance speech, using a hairbrush as a microphone and wearing a tattered musical cast T-shirt from a middle school production of [take your pick: Bye Bye, Birdie, The Sound of Music, Gypsy, Newsies, The Little Mermaid or Bright Star] that’s been through the washer one time too many.

Chris Cooper And Cast Present 'Sublime' Version of [title of show] at MTSU
Patrick Jones, Emma Groves and Angela Tipps

While [title of show] might be tailored for an audience of colorful and creative youngsters who have spent their formative years listening to Patti LuPone sing eloquently of the Argentines not showing her enough love or any Disney princess you can imagine pining for a prince to call her own, or dreamy young men longing for a respite in Santa Fe (absent the tacky turquoise jewelry) as a means of dealing with the reality of growing up in a decidedly gray and uninteresting small town, there’s plenty about it to entertain just about anyone (although if you’re a theater nerd who loves to pore over stagebound trivia and arcane facts about plays and musicals because you are an introvert frightened by interpersonal relationships or consider yourself athletically challenged – this is your show!) with a good sense of humor and a set of friends who make your life better by being there when you need them.

Chris Cooper And Cast Present 'Sublime' Version of [title of show] at MTSU
Jenna Anderson and Patrick Jones

Cooper’s clear and focused direction of [title of show] ensures that the action that transpires over the course of 90-plus minutes holds your attention, reminds you of people you know and delivers a pretty spot-on depiction of what real life is all about. With the able assistance of musical director Angela Tipps (the only non-student involved in the production, except for the professors who serve as mentors of the student-led creative team and production crew) and choreographer Paige Lovell (who provides the quartet of actors some fancy footwork that enlivens the proceedings), Cooper and his ideally cast quartet of actors, in this critic’s estimation, deliver the goods and then some.

Tipps is the fifth member of the onstage ensemble, providing accompaniment and sometimes acknowledged as “Mary,” the musical director of the show being presented in this musical with a musical. (Okay, we’ll stop right there with that crap – you understand the show’s set-up by now, right? If not, you’re in my thoughts and prayers.)

Cooper’s four-member ensemble features Patrick Jones (as Jeff), Seth Pratt (as Hunter), Jenna Anderson (as Heidi) and Emma Groves (as Susan), who individually create vibrant and authentic characters based on their real counterparts, and who together prove the adage of “being greater than the sum of their parts.” When, upon leaving the theater, you feel as if you’ve made four new friends and want more than anything to go out for a beer with them, you know the actors you just admired onstage have accomplished something altogether swell. And memorable.

Chris Cooper And Cast Present 'Sublime' Version of [title of show] at MTSU
Emma Groves, Patrick Jones, Jenna Anderson
and Seth Pratt

Jones is terrific as Jeff, showing a versatility heretofore expected but unseen in previous outings we’ve reviewed. Charming and self-effacing, he provides the foundation for the friend group at the heart of [title of show]. Jones’ stage presence is palpable and his talents are easily discernable. Likewise, Pratt’s Hunter is the perfect foil for Jones’ Jeff. Pratt is so funny and so self-assured and confident in the role it is easy to forget he’s playing a character.

Anderson is impressive as Heidi, clearly paying to her strengths and is wonderfully believable as the most successful onstage of the four characters. (Obviously, this was before Blickenstaff ended up in Nashville, starring in the ill-fated May We Allyikes! – which came after her successes in Something Rotten and Jagged Little Pill.) Groves shows off her own mad comedic skills as the high-strung (yet somehow down-to-earth) Susan, displaying perfect timing and commendable vocals.

Performed against a backdrop of a NYC apartment set, with the nifty projection and evocative lighting design by Logan Purcell, Cooper’s production succeeds on every level and helps shine the spotlight on MTSU Theatre’s impressive program that continues to evolve and to gain in stature.

[title of show] Music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen. Book by Hunter Bell. Directed by Chris Cooper. Musical direction by Angela Tipps. Choreography by Paige Lovell. Stage managed by Vanessa Jarman. Presented by MTSU Theatre at the Deborah Anderson Studio Theatre, Murfreesboro. March 23-26.