FRIDAY 5 (+1): Nashville Repertory Theatre's SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE Opens Saturday 3/23
FRIDAY 5 (+1): Nashville Repertory Theatre's SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
Nashville Repertory Theatre's critically acclaimed (and First Night Award-winning) 2018-19 Season draws to a close with tomorrow night's premiere of Shakespeare in Love at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Johnson Theatre.
Directed by Rene D. Copeland, Shakespeare in Love features a huge cast, made up of some of Nashville favorites joined by some newcomers certain to become favorites (including one canine star, in particular) once audiences have seen them onstage.
Shakespeare in Love was adapted by Lee Hall from the Academy Award-winning film of the same name (written by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman). Shakespeare in Love focuses on penniless young playwright Will Shakespeare who is battling writer's block until he meets a young woman who becomes his inspiration. Described as "a true valentine to the theater," the play focuses on Shakespeare and his struggle to achieve some acclaim in the theater. When he meets the beautiful Viola de Lesseps, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, who dreams of becoming an actor in a time when women were not permitted onstage, Shakespeare finally finds his muse.
Today, in anticipation of their opening weekend, three members of Copeland's cast - Cailen Fu, Joseph Leitess and Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva - offer some background information on what shapes them as actors (including their most memorable "the show must go on" moments) and offer suggestions for why you shouldn't miss Shakespeare in Love in our latest Friday 5 (+1):
What was your first "live, onstage" taste of theater? I was very fortunate to be exposed to theater at an early age but funny enough, I specifically remember seeing a middle school production of The Secret Garden that I absolutely loved. Looking back now, I could not tell you how the show actually was, but I remember being completely enthralled that this was a form of storytelling that I could do for the rest of my life. I've been hooked ever since.
What is your favorite pre-show ritual? I love getting in touch with where I am mentally/emotionally/physically starting from for that performance. We're all human and life happens outside of the show, so just checking in with myself and being honest with where I am coming from for that show is important to me. Some days can be really crappy but the show still has to happen, so that definitely helps keep the everything fresh!
What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? During the final dress rehearsal for a show in college, I had some kind of sickness where I could not keep any food down. At the end of Act One, we were in a large group song and a handful of us had little solos. I had eaten a banana during our break and I had a moment on stage where I thought "omg, I am going to throw up, RIGHT NOW" and so I snuck offstage, tied my hair back, threw up and took the trash outside. Somehow, by the time I got back onstage, it was just in time for my solo and the creative team never even noticed! It was a miracle.
What's your dream role? Natasha in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 for musical theater. I'd love to take on Juliet in a full production of Romeo and Juliet.
Who's your theatrical crush? I don't think I have a theatrical crush right now! I admire so many different artists.
Why should people come see Shakespeare in Love? People should come see Shakespeare in Love because it is a hilarious and beautiful story about the discovery of love and loss. It goes through so many ups and downs, it's bound to have the audience laughing and crying. The company is fantastic and full of so much talent. I am so honored to be part of this company. Come see us!
What was your first "live, onstage" taste of theater? I was Banquo in our heavily edited fifth-grade production of Macbeth! They threw a big sparkly sheet over me for the ghost scene. I think I still have it somewhere.
What is your favorite pre-show ritual? I like to do yoga before a show. It's extremely helpful to have a moment of focus and quiet before going onstage.
What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? I fell off a ladder backstage in a production of Hamlet. The audience couldn't see it, but they definitely heard me hit the floor like a sack of potatoes. The worst part: I still had to climb the ladder to go on with the scene. "There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow," but it certainly didn't feel provident at the time.
What's your dream role? I go back and forth- I'd love to play Prince Hal, who later becomes King Henry V. He undergoes this huge transformation from an irresponsible party boy into a courageous leader.
Who's your theatrical crush? If we're talking Shakespeare characters, it's gotta be Rosalind from As You Like It. That said, I can't tell if it's a crush or if I just want to play the part myself. If we're talking real live human actors I admire, Rory Kinnear is way up on the list. I'm a big fan of his Iago, especially.
Why should people come see Shakespeare in Love? Comedy! Love! A bit with a dog! It's visually stunning! Incredible live music from our actors! It's a love letter to the theatre itself!
What was your first "live, onstage" taste of theater? I memorized a section from one of my favorite children's books and performed it during class in elementary school. My teacher got a kick out of it and asked me to perform it for assembly.
What is your favorite pre-show ritual? I love to pack my Show Bag! I actually wrote a parody song for it. Nothing gives me more joy that packing a bunch of junk I don't need in my bag. Okay, it's not a bag. It's a suitcase. Don't judge me.
What's your most memorable "the show must go on" moment? The first time I did To Kill A Mockingbird, I had horrible food poisoning. I had no understudy and was violently ill. We put trash cans off both sides of the stage, and a small one in the balcony. During the courtroom scene, which is VERY LONG...the other actors would create noise and wave their fans so I could bend over and get sick without anyone knowing. It was...an adventure.
What's your dream role? I want to play so many things! I have always wanted to play Carmen in Carmen Jones.
Who's your theatrical crush? Hmmm...I don't know. Maybe it's you!
Why should people come see Shakespeare in Love? It's a play that just makes you feel good. It's bursting with humor, beautiful music, and eloquent language. Hey.. if that doesn't do it for you, there is also a super cute dog!
About Shakespeare in Love
Shakespeare in Love - the final show of Nashville Repertory Theatre's 2018-19 season - opens Saturday night, March 23, at the Andrew Johnson Theatre at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, running through April 13. Replete with comedy, a secret romance, live music, a play-within-a-play, stunning costumes, swordfights, a hefty wager and Queen Elizabeth I herself, there's also the promise of a very cute dog to entice audiences to the theatre.
Shakespeare in Love was adapted by Lee Hall from the Academy Award-winning film of the same name (written by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman). Directed by Nashville Rep artistic director Rene D. Copeland, Shakespeare in Love focuses on penniless young playwright Will Shakespeare who is battling writer's block until he meets a young woman who becomes his inspiration.
Described as "a true valentine to the theater," the play focuses on Shakespeare and his struggle to achieve some acclaim in the theater. When he meets the beautiful Viola de Lesseps, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, who dreams of becoming an actor in a time when women were not permitted onstage, Shakespeare finally finds his muse.
Despite learning that Viola's father has promised her to the stuffy Lord Wessex, Will and Viola cannot stay apart. Inspired by their passionate affair, Will begins to write his greatest love story, Romeo and Juliet. With opening night and the wedding day fast approaching, audiences will have the ideal perspective to discover which plot end in comedy and which in tragedy.
Making his Nashville Repertory Theatre debut, Joe Leitess stars as Will Shakespeare, with Cailen Fu, also joining the company for her first role, as Viola de Lesseps. Leitess and Fu lead a cast filled with new faces and veterans of past Nashville Rep productions.
"In a post-Hamilton world, the idea of diverse casting of historical characters is not new, certainly, but I was really excited to have the chance to illuminate universal aspects of the story through casting choices that included actors of color," says Copeland. "I mean, what's more universal than love, and brotherhood, and power?"
"And let's face it: if you're looking for a powerful queen, someone who can command a room absolutely but have a twinkle in her eye, then there's no better choice than Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva, who will take the stage as Queen Elizabeth."
Joel Diggs plays another historical figure from the Elizabethan era, playwright Christopher Marlowe. Diggs most recently played Booth in Nashville Rep's production of Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog.
Other historical characters in the play are Richard Burbage, the first actor to play many of Shakespeare's leading roles, played by David Ian Lee, and the actor Edward "Ned" Alleyn, his great rival, played by Jacob York. Theatrical financier and owner of the historic Rose Playhouse, Phillip Henslowe, is played by James Crawford in his Rep debut. Writer John Webster appears in the play as a young boy, played by 12-year-old Kevin Rome in his Nashville Rep debut.
Nat McIntyre plays Lord Wessex, the man Viola is promised to marry, and Bobby Wyckoff plays Mr. Fennyman, the financial backer who falls in love with theatre. Rachel Agee plays Viola's nurse, the character who inspires Shakespeare's creation of Juliet's nurse. David Wilkerson joins the cast as Tilney, the queen's Lord Chamberlain, and also serves as Fight Director, creating the lively sword fights in the show.
The ensemble includes Trevor Wheetman, Gerold Oliver, Andrew Johnson, Jonah Jackson, Chip Arnold, Mikey Rosenbaum, Kit Bulla, Seth Brown, Matthew Benenson Cruz, Joy Greenawalt and Katie Bruno. Rahja, a pitbull with an impressive resume, plays Spot, with the help of her human and professional dog trainer Ben Lay.
Wheetman, Rosenbaum, Bulla, and Bruno, in addition to playing their roles, will also provide the play's live music on stage, playing collectively more than 20 different instruments. While Shakespeare in Love is not a musical, it is a play that has a hefty Elizabethan score, including vocal music, for various transitions and scene underscoring. Music direction is by Jason Tucker and choreography is by Pam Atha. Assistant director Santiago Sosa is dialects and vocal coach.
The design team, headed by Nashville Rep director of design Gary C. Hoff, will create a beautiful world for the play, and besides Hoff's set design, a magnificent Elizabethan environment, the production includes sound by Ned Singh, lighting by Philip Franck and technical direction by Christopher L. Jones. Lori Gann-Smith, Nashville Rep's resident costume designer, is creating the production's 16th century costumes.
Shakespeare in Love plays TPAC's Johnson Theatre March 23-April 13 with previews on March 21 and 22. Shows are at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays. For tickets, go to www.NashvilleRep.org, or call the box office at (615) 782-4040.