Photo Coverage: First Night Robe Presented to Irvin, Holder, Waldrep and Stokes
Carol Irvin, who has been a mainstay at Crossville's Cumberland County Playhouse for more than 20 years, is the latest recipient of The First Night Robe. Jeffrey Ellis, founder and executive producer of The First Night Honors, presented the robe to Irvin on Saturday, November 17, prior to curtain of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which co-stars Irvin along with Colin Cahill, Leila Nelson, Britt Hancock, Jason Ross, Daniel W. Black, Lauren Marshall Murphy, Greg Pendzick, Lindy Pendzick, Michael Ruff, D'Nicole Bell and Weslie Webster (among a "cast of thousands") at CCP.
Directed by Hancock, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continues through December 23. Nelson choreographs (and shares the role of The Narrator with Anna Baker), with musical direction by Ron Murphy.
During the week leading up to Irvin's robe presentation, Bralyn Stokes, 2010 First Night Most Promising Actor, was presented with the robe prior to the Sunday afternoon performance of Rhubarb Theater's Birds in Church-directed by company artistic director Trish Crist-at Nashville's Darkhorse Theater. All of Stokes' castmates (a collection of some of Nashville's best-known and best-loved actors) looked on as he was given the robe and watched him leave his signature on the robe's lining.
On Wednesday, November 14, both Michael Holder and Joshua Waldrep were recognized for their contributions to Street Theatre Company's Miss Saigon in Concert prior to opening night curtain. As their castmates cheered them on, Holder and Waldrep were presented with the robe and added their autographs to the growing collection gathered in the robe since its inception. Miss Saigon in Concert was directed by STC artistic director Cathy Street, with musical direction by Rollie Mains; Holder played Chris, while Waldrep took on the role of John.
On September 2, 2012-during the presentation of The First Night Honors-a new Nashville and Tennessee theater tradition was unveiled with the presentation of the First Night Robe. Fashioned after and inspired by the legendary Broadway Gypsy Robe, the First Night counterpart is presented to someone who is making their first appearance on a Nashville-area stage, is playing a significant role after a long absence or is deemed worthy of notice by the show's production team.
The robe, designed and built by Laura Spencer Higgins and Cat Arnold, is royal blue lined with pale silver and accented with gold brocade trim. It represents the history of theater in the Volunteer State and the continuing sense of community and tradition that reverberates throughout Tennessee every time an actor steps upon the stage.
Broadway veteran Bailey Hanks (Legally Blonde), who made her Nashville stage debut at The First Night Honors, was the first recipient (subsequently, she was presented with the robe again on opening night of 9 to 5: The Musical at the Roxy Regional Theatre in Clarksville), followed by Taylor Tracey, who made her Nashville debut playing Elle Woods in Legally Blonde at the Larry Keeton Theatre.
Justin Boccitto, who plays Ken in Blackbird Theatre's production of Red, was the next recipient, receiving the robe on opening night of the show at Lipscomb University's Shamblin Theatre. Paul J. Cook, playing Leo Frank at Boiler Room Theatre, accepted the robe on the second night of Parade, while Enoch Porch and Kevin J. Thornton, creators of Into the Darkness: A Vampire Musical, shared the First Night Robe on their very own First Night at Chaffin's Backstage at the Barn.
Kelsey Porter, who played Nettie in Circle Players' production of The Color Purple, which was held over for a third weekend at Tennessee State University's Performing Arts Center, was presented the robe prior to opening night of the musical, which was a joint production of Circle Players and TSU.
On Thursday, November 1, Kristi Mason-who played Babe in Lipscomb University Theatre's production of The Pajama Game-was the recipient of the robe prior to curtain on opening night at Collins Alumni Auditorium on the Lipscomb campus in Nashville. Directed by Beki Baker, The Pajama Game was choreographed by Justin Boccitto, himself a recipient of the robe earlier in the season and 2011 First Night Award-winning best director of a musical for Hairspray at Lipscomb.
Los Angeles-based actor Clay Steakley was presented the robe on Saturday, November 10, prior to curtain at Actors Bridge Ensemble's world premiere production of Bill Feehely's Outside Paradise at Belmont's Black Box Theatre. A Belmont alumnus, Steakley was welcome back to Nashville to play F. Scott Fitzgerald opposite 2011 First Night Award winner Jennifer Richmond as Zelda Sayre in the play.
The First Night Robe, designed and built by Cat Arnold and Laura Spencer Higgins
Bralyn Stokes and Jeffrey Ellis
Bralyn Sokes (with Anthony Just looking on)