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Critic's Choice: People to See, Shows to Do

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Shows are opening, shows are closing and Fiddler on the Roof is back onstage for Actors Pointe Theatre Company while Tom Sawyer takes a bow at Springhouse Theatre in Smyrna! Obviously, the 2016 theater season continues to reveal itself at a breakneck pace, giving audiences a veritable buffet of offerings from which to choose.

And coming up Monday night, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center reveals its 2016-17 Broadway series - easily one of the most anticipated reveals of the year - and since we've sneaked a peek at the list of shows, we can tell you this: The 2016-17 Broadway at TPAC season is unlike any you've ever seen before! You're gonna love every minute!

Whew! We need a nap! But only to be rested and prepared for a busy slate of shows that are highlighting our schedule (and we've got rehearsals in anticipation of the April 14 opening of Beth Henley's The Miss Firecracker Contest at The Larry Keeton Theatre in Donelson). Tonight, we're catching Bradley Moore's 4,000 Miles at Darkhorse Theater, and on Friday, we're seeing You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, at Lipscomb University Theatre. Be sure to check out our upcoming reviews of the two shows, as well as stories we have planned about Nashville Shakespeare Festival's Apprentice Company and the two young leads of the touring Mamma Mia! - Kyra Belle Johnson and Stephen Ecklemann.

We're always ready to help you plan your weekend (and beyond...into the start of the new week) activities with BWW Nashville's Critics Choice, offering up a compendium of what's available, what we recommend you see, and - in the cases of show's we've seen already - snippets of our reviews to help you make up your mind!

And if you're one of those people who plans ahead (they do exist, I am assured by people in the know), you might take a look at our weekly compilation of all things theatrical to be found in Nashville's Theater Calendar: /nashville/article/Nashvilles-Theater-Calendar-4416-20160404

Fiddler on the Roof opens tonight at GodWhy Church in Hendersonville as the latest from Actor's Pointe Theatre. Fiddler on the Roof held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run. It remains Broadway's 16th longest-running show in history, winning nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, score, book, direction and choreography. It has spawned five Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation, and the show has enjoyed enduring international popularity. The music was written by Broadway legends Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Jerry Bock (music). The Actor's Pointe cast features local and regional professional, semi-professional and amateur actors from all around middle Tennessee. There are two "dinner and show" performances offered on April 8 and 15, catered by the Black Eyed Pea of Hendersonville. Dinner begins at 6:30 pm. Curtain at 7:30 p.m.

Nathan Stultz puts on Tony Manero's boogie shoes as he takes on the lead role in Hendersonville High School's Saturday Night Fever the Musical, running through Sunday. This musical adaptation of the classic '70s film tells the story of a talented, streetwise kid from Brooklyn who attempts to escape his dead-end life through dancing. The score to Saturday Night Fever the Musical includes many disco-era hits, including "Stayin' Alive," "Disco Inferno," "Boogie Shoes," "Jive Talkin'," "You Should Be Dancing," and more! The cast is led by Nathan Stultz and Julia Degnan, playing the roles of Tony and Stephanie, which were made famous by John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney in the classic movie. Tickets for Saturday Night Fever the Musical are $10 and can be purchased in the school office or at the door. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m. Grab your disco shoes and come see the story that defined a decade!

2016 First Night Most Promising Actor Nick Mecikalski plays Alceste in Vanderbilt University Theater's production of The Misanthrope, opening tonight and running this weekend. Director Terryl Hallquist places Molière's 17th-century comedy straight in the heart of present-day Music City.

Though Molière originally meant The Misanthrope as a satire of the French aristocracy that surrounded him, VUTheatre directs the play's sardonic criticisms and razor-sharp wit at the queens and kings of today's music industry. Alceste, Molière's protagonist and perennial misanthrope, fights through a stiflingly friendly cohort of well-to-do acquaintances to sway the love of his life, Célimène, back from the slew of suitors who flatter her attentions away from him.

Dramatizing the extremes of deceit, honesty, and jealousy, The Misanthrope proves its timelessness as it explores the underbelly of our most commonplace interactions. Also-everything rhymes. And there's a concert. Showtimes: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, April 7-9 at 8 p.m., Sunday, April 10, at 2 p.m.

Kari Smith directs You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, for Lipscomb University's Department of Theatre at Collins Alumni Auditorium, running through April 15. Her cast of spectacular student actors take audiences through an average day in the life of Charlie Brown: A day made up of little moments picked from all the days in Charlie Brown's young life, from Valentine's Day to the baseball season, from wild optimism to utter despair, all mixed up with the lives of his friends and dog and strung together on the string of single day, from bright, uncertain morning to hopeful, starlit evening. In the end, Charlie Brown reminds us "Happiness is anything and anyone that's loved by you."

Opening Friday night is Springhouse Theatre Company's Mark Twain Presents The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, running through April 24. Join master storyteller Mark Twain as he leads us into the world of his most famous character: Tom Sawyer.

Tom's adventures never fail to remind us of why great storytelling never grows old. There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. For a young rapscallion named Tom Sawyer, that time is the middle of April, and that someplace is Springhouse Theatre Company.

STC welcomes master storyteller, Mark Twain, to its stage, along with some of his most endearing and enduring creations, Huckleberry Finn, the Widder Douglas, Aunt Polly, and of course Tom Sawyer, in the season's mainstage finale, Mark Twain Presents The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Adapted for the stage by middle Tennessee playwright, novelist and filmmaker, Mike Parker, this delightful production allows Mark Twain, played skillfully by popular Nashville actor, Jack Gilpin, to interact with both the audience and the characters to bring the story to life.

Jason Ross and Daniel W. Black star in Cumberland County Playhouse's The Nerd, running through April 16 in Crossville. This unpredictable, side-splitting comedy from the author of The Foreigner centers on the dilemma of one Willum Cubbert, a young architect, who is visited by Rick Steadman - a man he's never met but who, years before, saved Willum's life. Rick turns out to be an incredibly inept "nerd" who outstays his welcome with a vengeance, leading to one uproarious incident after another.

Nashville Repertory Theatre's critically acclaimed run of the Kander and Ebb musical Chicago continues at TPAC's Andrew Johnson Theatre through April 16. Chorus girl Roxie Hart tried to pin the murder of her lover on her unwitting husband, but the jig is up and Roxie has landed in Cook County Jail. Jazz star and accused murderer Velma Kelly is less than pleased to see Roxie on her cell block, since Roxie's sensational crime and feigned innocence capture the attention of the public as well as Velma's hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn. This Tony Award-winning satire whisks you into a world where everyone is a dazzling performer, truth is defined by what gets the most attention, and owning the spotlight is the most important thing.

Here's a snippet from our review: "Filled with gamine chorines and femmes fatales, randy fourflushers and charming roues, disarming furniture salesmen and in flagrante delicto Jacks and Jills just itching to push the envelope of good taste and general decorum - the world of Chicago is filled with all sorts of intriguing personalities who are brought to life by some of Music City's finest actors (just how much they're really acting is up to you, gentle readers...) in what is most assuredly one of 2016's - nay, the whole 21st century, to date - finest productions.

"Copeland teams up with choreographer Pam Atha to breathe new life into Chicago (the two women together have produced some of Nashville's most memorable musicals of the past quarter century and they are largely responsible for cementing Music City's reputation for being, in all honesty, better known as "Musical City") with their shared passion for musical theater and for their knowledge of what will leave audiences clamoring for more and, perhaps more importantly, who they most want to see onstage performing their favorite show tunes. More often than not, that means Martha Wilkinson, Nashville's undisputed queen of musical theater, has been Copeland and Atha's co-conspirator in creating the shows people still talk about, years after the final curtain has rung down. Chicago is just their latest onstage success.

"Together, the three - Copeland, Atha and Wilkinson - form a triad of musical theater superheroines: If, going in, you know they are on the ticket then you can rest assured that you're going to be entertained, your mind enlightened and your spirit sent soaring by the result of their collaboration. While each woman is truly startling in her talents and particular skill set, when you put them together they pretty much define the notion of "being more than the sum of their parts." That's why Chicago has been so eagerly awaited by local audiences and why the theaterati and the chattering classes have been working overtime in spreading the word about Nashville theater's imminent return to the ever-so-roaring 1920s."

Nashville Rep's cast for Chicago stars Martha Wilkinson (Roxie), Corrie Maxwell (Velma), and Geoff Davin (Billy). Additional cast includes Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva (Matron "Mama" Morton), Shawn Knight (Amos/Ensemble), and J. London (Mary Sunshine). Ensemble members include DeVon Buchanan, Wesley Carpenter, Jess Darnell, Billy Ditty, Rosemary Fossee, Mia Rose Lynne, Neely Scott, and Everett Tarlton. Tickets are $25 for previews and start at $50 for regular run. Cabaret tables close to the stage seat four and begin at $60 per person. Tickets can be purchased online at nashvillerep.org or by calling the Box Office at (615) 782-4040.

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, continues its run at Dickson's Gaslight Dinner Theatre through Saturday. Ken Ludwig's updated version of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic stretches the genres of comedy and mystery by taking a story that plays out on a large scale - in railway stations, on the Devonshire moors, on London streets and in baronial mansions - and creates it with five actors playing more than 40 roles.

What did we think? "Ludwig's attempts to wring every laugh out of the tale of the scion of the Baskerville family's arrival to claim his rightful place as heir to the title and its accompanying (and "supposed," I suppose) fortune results in an overbearing and often unfunny stage show. Ludwig's laugh lines are disappointing and rely far too often on borderline offensive stereotypes (we're thinking of the Castilian hotel desk clerk who is fey and fabulous in the most gratingly obvious manner) and ridiculous situations that are often hard to follow.

"Frey's ensemble features some fine actors forced to overact and overplay their roles in an effort to entertain: the comedy in Baskerville never comes smoothly and the story never plays in the easy way that truly excellent stage farces should. The play's pace is often lugubrious and treacly - although the curtain call is frenetic and fun, performed at a break-neck pace that shows what the cast is truly capable of delivering - and the plot becomes bogged down in too much exposition to engage the audience. Even the set seems dour and depressing, a black expanse of mostly vacant space that fails to visually stimulate or to suggest anything of a design aesthetic for a period piece that fairly demands a certain attention to detail. But there's a smoke machine! Meh."

Director Greg Frey's cast includes Gaslight favorites Jenny Norris Light (I Do! I Do!, Seussical, Oklahoma, The Andrews Brothers, All Shook Up) and Curtis LeMoine-Reed (The Andrews Brothers, A Christmas Story, All Shook Up, A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, Spamalot) along with newcomer Brett Cantrell (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, It's A Wonderful Life, Arsenic and Old Lace, Alone Together, Funny Valentines): Evan Williams (Little Shop of Horrors, Oliver, The Rocky Horror Show, The Spitfire Grill, Reckless) and Nick Fair (All Shook Up, Shrek, The Fantasticks, Into the Woods, A Christmas Carol).

Performances of Baskerville includes Thursday and Friday matinees at 12 noon with show at 1 p.m. and Friday and Saturday evening performance begin with dinner at 6:30 p.m. and show at 7:30 p.m. Advance reservations are required. Tickets range from $18 to $40. For reservations, call the box office (Monday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m.; Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) at (615) 740-5600 or go online. The show's running time is approximately 90 minutes.

Continuing this weekend at Belmont University Musical Theatre (at the Troutt Theatre, 2112 Belmont Avenue). is The Addams Family, running through April 10. Based on the ghoulish cartoons by Charles Addams, The Addams Family is a musical comedy that will have you laughing TO DEATH! Follow the story of Wednesday Addams as she falls in love and takes the family on a wild ride that has them facing their worst nightmare...one normal night. It's just a simple dinner party. What could go wrong? Come meet the family. We'll leave the lights off for you.

Lori Fischer and Don Chaffer's new musical, The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers, continue its run through May 28, featuring an all-star CCP cast that includes Fischer, Weslie Webster, Britt Hancock and Bill Frey. It's all about country music stardom run amok in a fictionalized version of Ashland City, Tennessee.

The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers centers around the Lashley Sisters, a country-singing duo whose star was on the rise (with hit tunes like "Big Boned Dreams, Tiny Tambourines") until the publicity surrounding an accident brought their careers to a screeching halt. It seems Lashley Lee Lashley (Weslie Webster) was driving the band's tour bus while under the influence. Now the girls are back in their hometown of Ashland City, where sister Junie (playwright Lori Fischer) has taken over the family business, The Sparkley Clean Dry Cleaners. She also takes care of her father Lyle (Bill Frey), who's been having trouble remembering things lately. With Lashley fresh out of rehab and Junie up to her elbows in laundry, a professional comeback for the Lashley Sisters seems unlikely. That is, until Pastor Phil (Britt Hancock) of the Third United Separated Harmony Church informs them that Bindy Moss, the church's Funeral Singer, has gone to her eternal rest and asks them to take over the job. Junie pens the unforgettable tune "Bindy, Take A Seat At The Banquet Table (Cause There's No Need For Food Drives In Heaven)" and together with a reluctant Lashley, starts the sisters on a new career path: performing personalized sendoffs for the dearly departed! Will Lashley be able to stay clean and sober? Will Junie be able to juggle her taking care of the business - and her father - while writing her unique funeral songs? And will the Lashley Sisters make it back to Nashville?

Here's our take on the show's opening night performance: "Lori Fischer's The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers does what so many shows before it have attempted: To create a whole new world out of whole cloth and set it down amid the already existing world (in which we mere mortals ply our collective trade), peopled by characters who are easy to love or at least accessible enough to be engaging and fun to watch. Where Fischer's new musical - now onstage at Crossville's Cumberland County Playhouse - succeeds so impressively is in its refreshing storytelling structure that invites audiences into the fictionalized version of Ashland City, Tennessee, where people care deeply about their neighbors and are likely to sing the songs that prove their affection and are certain to make you guffaw (more than once even).

"Clearly, it's not a life-changing, genre-shattering new musical on a grand, worldwide scale, nor will it likely ever be a hit on the Broadway. Rather, The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers retains its small-town charm while embracing its Tennessee roots with enough sentimentality to ensure healthy responses from audiences (and critics!) to do credit to the awesome work by the playwright and her songwriting partner Don Chaffer, who have crafted a story that is eminently accessible and enormously likable. The show is never mawkish, its histrionics are manageable on a human scale, and yet somehow it is larger than life in the way every musical should be in order to fit the theatrical mold set forth as far back as the days of Romberg, Friml and Herbert, Kern and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Hammerstein accompanied by a whole cadre of other collaborators."

Music City Theatre Company presents Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles, directed by Bradley Moore, at Nashville's Darkhorse Theater, through April 9. Taylor Novak, Terry Occhiogrosso, Britt Byrd and Megan Blevins are cast in 4000 Miles, which is described as "a dramatic comedy," running Off-Broadway in 2011, and again in 2012, and was a finalilst for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

"After suffering a major loss while he was on a cross-country bike trip, 21 year-old Leo seeks solace from his feisty grandmother Vera in her West Village apartment. Over the course of a single month, these unlikely roommates infuriate, bewilder, and ultimately reach each other. 4000 Miles looks at how two outsiders find their way in today's world," according to a synopsis supplied by the director.

4000 Miles is the 12th production of Music City Theatre Company, which was founded by Moore in 2008. The mission of MCTC is to provide the Nashville community with thought-provoking, socially relevant work with a strong vision, Moore says. Performances of 4000 Miles are scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 7-9, at 7:30 p.m. (the Wednesday, April 6 show is "pay what you can") and on Sunday, April 3 at 2:30 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes prior to each performance at Darkhorse Theatre, 4610 Charlotte Avenue. Tickets are $12 and are available in advance (at www.mctc.ticketleap.com) or at the door, payable by cash or all major credit cards. Opening night tickets are $5 and are only available online.

Continuing at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre is the nostalgic musical The Taffetas, directed by Bradley Moore and starring Jaclyn Lisenby Brown, Audrey Johnson, Rae Robeson and Sydney Caroline Hooper. Call (615) 646-9977 for reservations.

We loved the show and you will as well: "There's nothing quite so entertaining - and nothing goes down more easily after a trip to the groaning board at Nashville's iconic Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre - than a musical revue that is sure to whisk you away to yesterday. Not the day before today, necessarily, but 'yesterday' as in a sentimental journey back to a time when life was somehow more innocent and somehow less complicated than what we experience in the day-to-day of 2016.

"The early 1950s were the hey-day of the girl singer and the girl group in American pop music: Connie Francis, Patti Page, Teresa Brewer, Jo Stafford, Brenda Lee and Kaye Starr ruled the music charts, along with the McGuire Sisters, the Chordettes, the Fontane Sisters and all the other configurations of young women harmonizing beautifully and rather transcendently, imparting words of wisdom about boys and beauty while sharing their wholesome outlook the world with their fans.

"It's that complex, though deceptively simple, world of love and romance, dreams and ambitions, music and harmony that provides Rick Lewis' off-Broadway and regional theater hit, The Taffetas - now onstage as part of the golden anniversary season at Chaffin's Barn - with its nostalgic setting in which four young Nashville women sing and dance their hearts out in a winningly engaging production directed by the peripatetic Bradley Moore in collaboration with choreographer Shauna Smartt Hopkins.

"The result of Moore and Hopkins' latest collaboration is a heartfelt tribute, both to the era and to the superbly talented performers who helped to make memorable and melodic songs such as "Sincerely" and "Where The Boys Are" chart-topping hits. Lewis has assembled a greatest hits - a veritable hit parade, as it were - for his fictional quartet of sisters to perform in the exquisitely timed and terrifically assembled musical revue, in which the songs reign supreme with just enough patter between them to keep your attention focused on the four women onstage."


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