Shelean Newman: One of Music City's Favorite Actresses May Become America's Favorite Chanteuse

Shelean Newman: One of Music City's Favorite Actresses May Become America's Favorite Chanteuse

With the holidays just around the corner, the need to come up with some grand gift ideas and the urge to listen to some Christmas tunes seem to go hand-in-hand. Now, thanks to one of Nashville's best-loved theatre stars who is quickly becoming one of America's most sought-after chanteuses, both can be wrapped up in one - no, make that two - lively, tuneful and altogether delightful packages.

Shelean Newman, known to Nashville audiences from her storied performances on area stages in productions of such musicals as The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Evita and more, has recently released her second CD for GrandVista Music entitled Snowfall, a collection of some of the season's most apropos songs, along with some surprising selections that fit perfectly into our idea of what the winter holiday season is all about. Snowfall is a follow-up, if you will, to Newman's exquisitely sung first collection for the record label, titled appropriately enough Anything Goes, a collection of standards and showtunes from such composers as Cole Porter, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer and George and Ira Gershwins.

Both CDs, which artfully capture Newman's beautiful voice and artistic vision, represent the confluence of "a perfect storm," creatively speaking, for the multi-talented mother of two who has been a favorite of local audiences for more than 20 years. In fact, thanks to the success of both works, it looks like one of Nashville's favorite theatre singers could become one of the world's favorite interpreters of musical standards, both seasonal and otherwise.

"I'm taking it all one step at a time," Newman explains during an interview this week during a break from her hectic schedule. "I have another CD in the works, which will probably be coming out early summer of next year, which is primarily original songs I've been working on, along with a few standards done my way."

Newman has been pursuing her own creative path since her stage debut at age seven (in a production of Fiddler on the Roof) in her native Texas, and she credits her father (a Southern Baptist minister and church music director) and her older sister (Ginger Newman, also an accomplished singer/actress with her own devoted cabaret following) as her earliest musical influences. After graduating from high school in Nashville, where her family had moved to when she was a young teenager, Shelean went to work at Opryland USA, singing and performing in some of the stage shows for which the theme park was best known.

Before it closed in 1997, Opryland USA "was one of the only theme parks where music was performed by live musicians rather than on pre-recorded tracks," Newman remembers. "It employed huge numbers of people in Nashville and I was blessed to be coming up at that time."

(Opryland USA is also where Shelean met her husband, Barry Green, widely known as one of Nashville's finest musicians.)

After more than a year and a half at Opryland, Newman went to work at Tennessee Repertory Theatre, where for 15 years she was one of the most popular actresses to trod the boards, appearing in numerous, critically acclaimed productions for the company.

Newman's newfound success as a recording artist began a few years ago when she began a songwriting collaboration with Nashville composer Paul Binkley; when Binkley subsequently became president of a new record label called GrandVista Music (founded and led by David Mastran), he approached Newman about the possibility of recording for the label.

"When I was offered this position as an artist, I discovered that recording a CD is quite a different animal from performing in the theatre," she admits. "I had to ask myself what my logical first step would be - and now that we've taken the music to this place, it's opening a lot of other creative avenues with my writing. Now it's all kind of falling into place."

Finding the right record label is an essential part for any artist who hopes to record and Newman feels like her place on GrandVista's roster is the ideal spot for her: "GrandVista really encourages artist development."

With the company headquartered in Nashville, the city where she and her husband have chosen to make their home and raise their two children (their daughter, Tyler, is a rising junior at Savannah College of Art & Design; son Seth is a student at Nashville's academic magnet high school, Hume-Fogg), her association with the record label is more than serendipitous; it's smart business, both creatively and artistically, as well as economically.

"Being in one of the world's music capitals, there is so much talent here - it's practically lying in the streets, rolling around," she says. "All these new, indie bands from Nashville are breaking out on the music scene and the doors have been blown wide open. Where Nashville music was previously known for country music and Christian music, now it's becoming known for all kinds of music."

"What that means is that more talent is coming here," Newman muses. "And there are more players in Nashville's world of music and so that makes it more exciting and raises the energy in the city, creatively speaking, and that makes the music scene here an amazing playground for an artist."

Her frame of musical reference, being what is essentially a Nashville native (her Texas upbringing, notwithstanding), affords Newman an opportunity to pursue whatever her muse moves her to do: "I've had the luxury of working with some of the best musicians and actors in town - to actually be in that pool for quite some time - that gives me an opportunity to think outside the box."

And it is that very practice of "thinking outside the box" that informs Newman's selections for both of her CDs that have already been released on the GrandVista label.

"I sit around and I listen to hundreds of songs and I weed down the songs and I listen to other artists' interpretations. If I don't hear something done a certain way, the way I've been thinking of doing it, I think I can take it that way," she explains.

For Snowfall, her collection of holiday tunes, Shelean says she chose the songs she did because they somehow speak to her creative side and the artistic direction she wants to take. On the album's list of songs you'll find such traditional holiday favorites as "Sleigh Ride" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas," along with Joni Mitchell's "River" and the somewhat unexpected (and I must confess, my personal favorite) "Moonlight in Vermont."

"'Moonlight in Vermont' is there because of the lyrics, it's a winter song and it fits the album, it just makes perfect sense to me," she says.

There's also a version of "Santa Baby" that just may eclipse Eartha Kitt's inimitable original version with its own very smoky sultriness. Obviously, Shelean Newman knows her way around a torch song. She also knows her way around one of America's best-loved showtunes cum love songs, the Gershwin-penned "Embraceable You," the highest-charting cut from her debut CD Anything Goes.

Last week, "Embraceable You" ranked number eight on the ACQB (secondary radio) charts. ACQB might best be described as "the radio website of all websites." In short, it's the source for radio directors trying to determine what cuts from what albums are being played on radio stations around the country as they work on their own stations' playlists.

Since Anything Goes was completed in Spring 2008, Newman has performed the songs from the album at a series of high-profile shows in Nashville, as well at venues on the West Coast, Chicago and New York City, as well at several talent-buyers' conventions throughout the USA. Response has been exhilarating for Newman, who hopes to attract a wider audience to her unique style.

Both Anything Goes and Snowfall are now available in record stores or from online sources such as Amazon. For more information about Shelean's tour dates and performances, or to get a sampling of her music, visit her website at www.SheleanNewman.com.

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

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