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Interview: Raconteur Jason Graae Returns to Nashville For CABARET ON STAGE at TPAC

Studio Tenn and TPAC Welcome Graae and Liz Callaway On Saturday, August 20

Interview: Raconteur Jason Graae Returns to Nashville For CABARET ON STAGE at TPAC

Even after a brief telephone conversation - which covers as many subjects as time will allow - it's quite clear that Jason Graae is not only an acclaimed actor, entertainer and stage/film/tv performer. He is, at his very core, a raconteur (which is a fancy French way of saying he can tell a great story).

And while my choice of words to describe him might border on the pretentious, you may rest assured that he is the furthest thing from that. Instead, it might be more to the point to say that Jason Graae is a great conversationalist, every anecdote is interesting (enlightening and scintillating, even!) and that he'll have you laughing so much that you'll be out of the time set aside for the interview before you even realize it.

Which begs the question: if he's so engaging and entertaining over the phone - how's he gonna top that when he is joined by his dear friend/confidante/co-conspirator Liz Callaway, when the two make their cabaret debut in Nashville next weekend? The charming, multi-talented duo are the next headliners in the second season of Cabaret On Stage, the sublime artistic collaboration between Studio Tenn and Tennessee Performing Arts Center, which brings some of theater and cabaret's most beloved and acclaimed personalities to the stage of Andrew Jackson Hall for an intimate evening of music, stories and revelry on Saturday, August 20.

Graae and Callaway [my interview with her goes live tomorrow] are the type of performers whose double act is sure to make audiences feel more sophisticated and cosmopolitan when they take to the stage together: "We do have an act," Graae says, his words punctuated with laughter. "But it was 2018 the last time we were onstage together, so it will feel very new and exciting and spontaneous when we are at TPAC."

Due to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, which effectively shuttered many performance venues for almost two years, the two old friends - who have known each other since college, have done shows together and even sang at each other's weddings - haven't taken their act on the road together for a while, ensuring their Nashville performance is sure to be something special indeed.

Interview: Raconteur Jason Graae Returns to Nashville For CABARET ON STAGE at TPAC "We met at college - we both were from Chicago originally, which is interesting, although I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, when I was a kid - at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Liz calls it her 'drive-by college' experience since she was only there for a quarter. We got along great even then, but it wasn't until later when we each made our off-Broadway debuts in a production of Godspell," he explains.

Thus, in the same way that so many bonds are formed among people who share of love of theater, something special was formed: "Doing off-Broadway for very little money was a challenging experience; we'd go out drinking every night. We'd go out to this place that had unlimited sangria (which may have been Hawaiian Punch for all I know), but when you're making $21 a week, unlimited sangria is great! We worked together a lot, crossed paths a lot, we sang at each other's weddings, we worked together in concert performances all over the country and it just made sense that we would somehow, someday develop a cabaret act."

What attracts Graae to cabaret, is the freedom it affords him as a consummate performer: "What I love about cabaret is the freedom you have when you do your own show," he says. "You don't have the constraints of doing a part, playing a character and doing what a director tell you to do."

"It's the freedom to do what you want to do onstage that I really love," Graae contends. "I love that I get to write my own patter, choose my own songs."

And sharing the stage with Callaway, about whom he says, "Liz is so funny and so game for anything," makes it even better.

"I love sharing an evening with Liz because she's such an impeccable musician, so I know that when I get to leave the stage, I leave the audiences in the capable hands of Liz. I just...I really do trust her."

Performing within the intimate confines of cabaret - in Nashville, for example, the audience is gathered together at tables on the stage of Andrew Jackson Hall, with the orchestra seating behind the entertainers to provide a dramatically lit backdrop that accentuates the very theatricality of the evening - allows for a better connection to the audience.

One definite difference of performing today, in comparison to a pre-pandemic world, is that "a lot of people are masked, which can be a little unnerving, because I love connecting with the audience and you're never quite sure about who's who in the audience and so the experience is a bit muted," Graae muses.

"But I feel like people are so thrilled to be out, to be feeling better," he says. "I'm so happy - even manically happy - to be performing in front of a live audience. I'm so grateful for hear a live response - the energy from the audience is what makes the evening happen. I'm so thrilled we're all together again."

For Graae, next week's Cabaret On Stage performance marks a homecoming of a sort - he worked one season at Nashville's beloved and lamented Opryland USA theme park (where a virtual who's who of Broadway stars honed their craft) as one of the stars of Broadway show in which he played a character who indulged in the fantasy of playing the King of Siam in The King and I, singing "One Alone" from the Sigmund Romberg operetta The Desert Song, among other atypical things, all the while enjoying the air-conditioned comfort of playing in The Grand Ole Opry House. "We did two shows a day, because we shared the venue with the Grand Ole Opry. it was a win-win situation all around for me," he suggests.

Graae's roommate during his Opryland stint was fellow Oklahoman Sam Harris - who headlined this season's first Cabaret On Stage at TPAC - and whom he had met when both were cast as newsboys in a community theater production of Gypsy in Tulsa, in which Graae's mom played Tessie Tura.

Interview: Raconteur Jason Graae Returns to Nashville For CABARET ON STAGE at TPAC About Cabaret On Stage

Studio Tenn Theatre Company and Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) present the return of their popular Cabaret On Stage series, featuring four intimate evenings on TPAC's Jackson Hall stage with legendary performers, including Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth (Schmigadoon!, Wicked); Emmy Award-winning actress and recording artist Liz Callaway (Merrily We Roll Along, Baby); with Broadway, television, and film actor Jason Graae (Falsettos, Wicked); award-winning actor and multi-platinum recording artist Sam Harris (The Life, The Producers); and four-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn (Fiddler on the Roof, Les Misérables) who sang the title role in Disney's Pocahontas.

Tickets are available at www.tpac.org, by phone at (615) 782-4040 and in person at the TPAC Box Office, 505 Deaderick St., in downtown Nashville.

Harris and Kuhn will be joined by John McDaniel, a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning music director, composer, director, arranger and producer who will serve as their musical director and emcee. Callaway and Graae will be joined by pianist Alex Rybeck, an award-winning composer, arranger and musical director known for his work on Broadway (Damn Yankees, Merrily We Roll Along), in concerts, cabarets and recordings. Chenoweth will be joined by musical director Mary-Mitchell Campbell, a conductor, composer, and music director for many Broadway shows (Mean Girls, The Prom).

Performance Schedule

July 2, 2022 - An Intimate Evening with Sam Harris, featuring John McDaniel as Emcee and Musical Director

August 20, 2022 - An Intimate Evening with Liz Callaway and Jason Graae, featuring Alex Rybeck

September 10, 2022 - An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth, featuring Mary-Mitchell Campbell

October 15, 2022 - An Intimate Evening with Judy Kuhn with John McDaniel

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From This Author - Jeffrey Ellis

Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 35 years. In 1989, Ellis and his partner l... (read more about this author)


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