Friday, May 29, 2020

Revised Orpheum Broadway Schedule Announced

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2020 at 4:32 PM

Orpheum Theatre Group President & CEO Brett Batterson has announced the venue's revised schedule for the 2020-2021 Broadway season. Performances have been moved out of Fall 2020 and extended until November, 2021. The changes pertain only to the Broadway series and not scheduled concerts and events for the fall.
Scene from "Hamilton" - THE ORPHEUM
  • The Orpheum
  • Scene from "Hamilton"
The revised lineup:
Jesus Christ Superstar: December 8-13, 2020
Cats: February 9-14, 2021
Mean Girls: March 9-14, 2021
Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville: April 13-18, 2021
Hadestown: May 4-9, 2021
Hamilton: July 13-25, 2021
The Band’s Visit: August 24-29, 2021
Disney’s The Lion King: Fall 2021
Come From Away, which had been scheduled as the final show in the 2019-2020 season is now scheduled for October 5-10, 2021.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Playhouse Cancels Performances and Youth Conservatory Until Fall

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2020 at 5:04 PM

Citing the mandates of city government and health officials, Playhouse on the Square will cancel the performances of Little Shop of Horrors, Mississippi Goddamn, and St. Paulie’s Delight, which had been scheduled to close the 2019-2020 season.
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Circuit Playhouse, meanwhile, is replacing its scheduled season opener Catch Me If You Can with Little Shop of Horrors, which will run August 7-30, 2020.

The Department of Theatre Education will no longer host Summer Youth Conservatory on the Playhouse campus. Plans for an alternate version of the camp are being formulated. Questions in regards to registration can be addressed to conservatory director Jason Gerhard at jason@playhouseonthesquare.org.

The company is urging patrons with tickets remaining in their subscription to donate the ticket value back to Playhouse or take an account credit toward the 52nd season opening in August.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Roving Singers Face Reality of Stay-Home Edict

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 2:24 PM

Late last week, Opera Memphis sent a message to the public that offered to send singers around town for drive-by serenades. It encouraged people to send an email and it would dispatch a van and flatbed trailer to wherever music lovers were (sparsely) gathered, and belt out some arias.

Taking opera to the streets. - OPERA MEMPHIS
  • Opera Memphis
  • Taking opera to the streets.


Ned Canty, general director of Opera Memphis, said at last count there were more than a hundred requests and they’d been busy taking music to the streets, rain or shine.

Until 6 p.m. today.

That’s when Mayor Jim Strickland’s edict to stay at home goes into effect. There’s a list of exceptions, but itinerant warblers don’t qualify.

“At 6 p.m., we're not going to do any more of these,” Canty says. But he is going to request permission from the mayor for an exemption. “We’re very rigorous in terms of social distancing. Only one person touches the equipment. Nobody’s in the same car.

Nobody is within six feet. We want to abide by the rules, so what we are going to ask for is his permission to sing for first responders, folks in hospitals, trying to find some places where people are essential employees and we will come and thank you by giving you this weird spread-out show.”

Canty intends to honor all the requests, but circumstances have changed things. It might be digital, or it might have to wait until the stay-home order is lifted. Maybe it’s only by Skype or FaceTime.

Today, the rain notwithstanding, the traveling troupe sang at condos on Parkway, at a recovery center, and for a retired couple living in a cul-de-sac. And at 6 p.m., it’s the final bow.

“But hopefully,” Canty says, “this will be the fuel that gets us through isolation.”

Tennessee Shakespeare Company


TSC is launching its Decameron Project Wednesday, March 25th, at 10:15 a.m. on its Facebook page.

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Company actors will be performing online inspired by Boccaccio's fourteenth century book The Decameron. The author had fled Florence to survive the Black Death epidemic. The book's short stories are told by women and men who self-quarantined for two weeks during the outbreak, giving them an opportunity to tell a story every night.

TSC will present its project Monday through Friday with the actors announcing the theme, taking note of literary and artistic events on that date in history, reading one or more pieces, and giving a Shakespeare speech that joins the theme.

Ballet Memphis


Dance aficionados can visit Ballet Memphis' Facebook page that has the "Stay Inside" video by dancers Brandon Ramey and Virginia Pilgrim Ramey. The short meditation on the isolation we're all having to endure is a reminder that performers have to perform, and no pandemic can stop them.

Also, the Pilates program at Ballet Memphis is now offering digital fitness classes through the Zoom platform. More information is here.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Quark Theatre Provokes (Again) With New Production

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2020 at 2:05 PM

Quark Theatre's new show opening Friday, March 13th, continues its mission of staging "small plays with big ideas."

The regional premiere of what happens to the hope at the end of the evening tells the tale of two friends who haven't seen each other for years. The two — "Andy" and "Friend" — share some history but have taken divergent paths over time. Their sometimes rocky reunion, which works on different levels, reveals ideas about friendship and identity while in its way, shows the power of theater (one character reads from the script and addresses the audience).
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British playwrights Tim Crouch and Andy Smith wrote the play that's directed by Tony Isbell and packs a lot into the hour or so production. The performers are local stage veterans Marques Brown (pictured at left) and Brian Helm.

The production runs March 13-29 at TheatreSouth in the First Congregational Church in the Cooper-Young neighborhood. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the door or in advance from quarktheatre.com. There is adult language. More info: 901-501-5921.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Alvin Ailey Fires Memphis Up at the Orpheum

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 9:41 AM

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater - PHOTO BY ANDREW ECCLES
  • Photo by Andrew Eccles
  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Last weekend's string of performances by The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Orpheum Theater revealed a lot about this city's enthusiasm for world-class modern dance. While the Orpheum regularly brings in high-caliber touring shows, it might be said that two hours of abstract movement could be a harder sell in cities away from the coasts. But that would be dead wrong. The chemistry between the audience and the dancers was palpable in these shows, lifting both to truly inspired heights.

From the beginning, the melding of music and pure movement revealed wide-reaching imaginations at work. As the strains of Bach's Trio Sonata No. 6 in G major played, a solitary dancer peppered her balletic movements with echoes of African dance, a tendency that only grew more pronounced as she was joined by others and the music morphed first to some swinging Mary Lou Williams and then on to the actual African sounds of Yao Ababio and Kofi Osei Williams.

A brief pause, and suddenly we were riding, with two virtuostic, acrobatic dancers, on the roller coaster of an Ella Fitzgerald scat. Only in a moment when Ella went down for some guttural growls did other dancers appear, a line of veritable Oompa-Loompas marching through in a line as if to emphasize the singer's stark melodic lines; and they never showed again: in that moment, the inspiration was pure, graphic whimsy.

That mood shifted yet again in the powerful “Ode,” which just debuted last October, and was described as “a flower on the graves of the innocent victims of gun violence and a meditation on the beauty and fragility of life.” To music (jazz great Don Pullen’s “Suite (Sweet) Malcolm (Part 1, Memories and Gunshots)”) alternately tortured and angular, then full of flowing chords reminiscent of Debussy, six men twisted through a painful journey, only to end as it began, with one of them lying prone, the others bent over him in a tableau.

Throughout, the sets were sparse, yet effective: a splash of light suggesting noirish Venetian blinds, a simple illuminated circle and subtle shades of color, a river suggested by two narrow sheets of fabric, stretched taut across the stage. Using the simplest effects, and uncomplicated costumes, a universe was suggested for each piece. Inevitably, the finales brought a roar of applause and appreciative hoots of enthusiasm from the nearly full house. “Yes!” Memphis seemed to be saying, “Yes to these meditations embodied by some of the world's strongest and most expressive dancers.”

The grand finale, of course, was the latest iteration of the Ailey classic, “Revelations.” First performed in 1960, the piece has lost none of its power, especially in a city like Memphis, so steeped in the ecstatic services of African-American churches. And though the piece has been centered on the same collection of African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs, and holy blues as ever, the versions used today create a perfect musical balance between pristine recordings of voices and drums alike, and the inherent grit and groove of songs created before recordings were even possible.

By the end, the dancers could barely rest from the audience's demand for encore bows, ultimately reprising a bit of the last piece in exultant joy. It was a passionate reminder of the aesthetic heights that can be reached by this most visionary and venturesome of American dance institutions.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Yule/Not Yule: Something to Bless Us Every One

Posted By on Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 10:00 AM

The holidays are on stage, either ongoing or coming soon. We've got your long runs, your weekenders, your kiddie delights, your grown-up fare with snark, sweetness, and terror, along with traditional old tales and the contemporary angsty pursuit of joy. So come around the wassail bowl and let’s plan a way to see them all …
Here We Come A Caroling
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This weekend only is Cabaret Noel Five: Here We Come A Caroling, the annual cabaret by Emerald Theatre Company. The elven hosts Topsy and Turvey promise twists, laughs, and fabulousness. And ample quantities of live music. Three performances only at TheaterWorks. Go here for more.

The 12 Dates of Christmas

Kim Sanders
  • Kim Sanders
On now through December 22nd is The 12 Dates of Christmas, a one-woman comedy with the glorious Kim Sanders, a resident company member at Playhouse on the Square. Sanders performs in the Memphian Room at Circuit Playhouse as single Mary and her cast of family, friends, and suitors as she recovers from finding out that her fiancé is a cad. Can she survive a year of holidays being sour on love? Directed by the splendid Kell Christie, you can find out more here.
Urban Nativity
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Hattiloo Theatre
founder Ekundayo Bandele has written Urban Nativity, a contemporary take on the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus. It premiered at the theater six years ago and tells the tale of Mary and Joe, an expectant couple going to Chicago to participate in a census. There are breakdowns, criminals, and a murderous governor after them. And yet, there is, as there must be, hope. Showing through December 15th. Get tickets here.

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
Lydia Barnett-Mulligan
  • Lydia Barnett-Mulligan

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
is set two years after Jane Austen’s novel ends, telling the tale of bookish middle sister, Mary as Christmas 1815 approaches at the Darcy estate. Tennessee Shakespeare Company presents the regional premiere of the merry tale of a new tree, new hope, and maybe even a new love. Directed by Stephanie Shine. Opens this weekend. Secure your place at Pemberley here.
A Christmas Carol
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Theatre Memphis
is embarking on its 42nd annual production of A Christmas Carol starting Friday and going through December 23rd. Directed by the estimable Jason Spitzer, it maintains tradition while getting better each year. David Shipley is the redeemable Scrooge. Go see it, every one. Tickets and info here.

Two Rooms
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And if you just want to detach from the warmth of human kindness, if you're feeling more worldly and less spiritual, then consider the case of Michael Wells, an American held hostage in a windowless cell in the Middle East and his wife, Lainie, who can’t do a thing about it, not even get the government to act. With a strong cast, Two Rooms by Lee Blessing was heralded in the 1980s as a story of solitude and devotion in the middle of headlines. Just like today, here is love and loss, foreign policy and journalism, terrorism, and people caught up in the vortex. It's a Cloud9 production at TheatreWorks running from December 13th to 21st. Info and tickets here.

Junie B. Jones, The Musical
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Here’s something for the youngsters that's not holiday themed: Junie B. Jones, The Musical follows our heroine on her first day of first grade as she navigates friends, teachers, the blackboard, kickball, and life itself. The talent, so you know, is first-rate with Breyannah Tillman (Dreamgirls) — last year’s Rising Star Ostrander Award winner — warbling on stage. Runs at Circuit Playhouse through December 22nd. Go here for more.
Peter Pan
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Of course, there’s Peter Pan. The 28th annual moneymaker is at Playhouse on the Square through December 29th, directed by Warner Crocker, and with some tech improvements that will make you ooooh and ahhhh even more than usual at the flying delights. Here's the info.

The Nutcracker
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Ballet Memphis would hardly be doing its job without a sumptuous production of The Nutcracker at the Orpheum. It’s got the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, more than 100 dancers, a live choir, and a sugar plum fairy. Runs December 12th to 15th and info is here.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Openings and a Closing On Stages This Weekend

Posted By on Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 4:44 PM

October is typically packed with stage delights and this weekend has terror, dance 'n' romance, felines, and social insights.
Aliza Moran and Greg Boller torment David Hammons in New Moon Theatre's production of The Pillowman. It opens October 11th at TheatreWorks. - CRAIG LAFFERTY
  • Craig Lafferty
  • Aliza Moran and Greg Boller torment David Hammons in New Moon Theatre's production of The Pillowman. It opens October 11th at TheatreWorks.
Opening Friday is New Moon Theatre's The Pillowman at TheatreWorks, a Kafkaesque and Halloween-appropriate look at a writer in a totalitarian state made to suffer for his art. New Moon always serves up something horrible for Halloween, and I mean that in a good way. Go, squirm, enjoy, and don't take the kids for cryin' out loud. Info is here.
Ballet Memphis opens its 33rd season in grand style with Romeo & Juliet as scored by Sergei Prokofiev and choreographed by the company's artistic director Steven McMahon who knows a thing or two about the production. He first choreographed R&J in 2011 and then revamped it for a 2015 production with a bigger cast. It's safe to say that you can't go wrong taking in this experience opening October 12th at Playhouse on the Square and running two weekends. More info here.
Crystal Brothers and Travis Bradley in feline form in the musical Cats opening October 11th at Theatre Memphis. - CARLA MCDONALD
  • Carla McDonald
  • Crystal Brothers and Travis Bradley in feline form in the musical Cats opening October 11th at Theatre Memphis.
If you're hankering for even more balletic beauty, then get on over to Theatre Memphis which is staging the popular musical Cats from October 11th through November 3rd. It's an all-out production directed and choreographed by Jordan Nichols and Travis Bradley. The catnip for lovers of ballet will be to see Bradley performing with Crystal Brothers, both of whom danced together for years at Ballet Memphis. It promises to be a remarkable memory. Here's ticket info.
Closing October 13th at Hattiloo Theatre is a powerful production of Between Riverside and Crazy, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winner for drama by playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis. Hattiloo founder Ekundayo Bandele directed a cast led by veteran actor T.C. Sharpe as a sly, stubborn NYPD ex-cop who is desperate to hold onto his rent-stabilized apartment. He's disabled, has a longtime lawsuit going on, feels the end is near, and is bitter. But he has family and friends that he loves even when they all get crosswise with his muleheadedness. It's serious, hilarious, unpredictable, thoughtful, and thoroughly entertaining. Grab your tickets here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

On Stage This Weekend

Posted By on Wed, Sep 25, 2019 at 4:23 PM

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Plenty to do and see this weekend, from openings to closings.

Opening Friday is Between Riverside and Crazy at Hattiloo Theatre. The 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning play throws the old against the new as a retired police officer is faced with eviction from his rent-controlled apartment in New York City. Directed by Ekundayo Bandele. For info, go here.

Lend us your ears: Tennessee Shakespeare is staging Julius Caesar. Directed by Dan McCleary, the classic about political dysfunction, pride, and consequences runs through October 6th. Grab your toga and go here for info.

Think you can handle the truth? This is the final week for Theatre Memphis' production of A Few Good Men, the powerful Aaron Sorkin play about a court martial and a coverup. Seating is limited this weekend, but a performance has been added tonight, September 25th. Go here for ticket information.

It's also the final weekend for Germantown Community Theatre's Barefoot in the Park, the Neil Simon love letter to young lovers. Get tickets here.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Quark Theatre Gets Daring (Again) With 'Wakey, Wakey,' GCT goes 'Barefoot,' 'Pond' at POTS

Posted By on Wed, Sep 18, 2019 at 11:03 AM

Adam Remsen and Sarah Solarez in Wakey, Wakey.
  • Adam Remsen and Sarah Solarez in Wakey, Wakey.

Quark Theatre's slogan is "small plays about big ideas," to which fans will readily concur.   If you go and are not provoked in some way, if you don't squirm, if you don't talk about it afterward with your companion, then you probably weren't there.

Quark's next show is Wakey, Wakey by Will Eno, an acclaimed playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist. Tony Isbell, one of Quark's founders, directs Adam Remsen (another Quark founder) and Sarah Solarez. Sound design is by Eric Sefton, with original music by Eileen Kuo, and lighting design by Louisa Koeppel (also a Quark founder).

The play runs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through October 6th. It's at TheatreSouth, 1000 Cooper St., southwest corner of the building. Tickets are $20. Here's the website.

Isbell spoke to us about Quark's philosophy and the production:

Quark's plays aren't particularly traditional. I suppose that's true with Wakey, Wakey?

Sometimes I call it an experience because it's not really a typical play in some ways. It's kind of like an eccentric TED talk. It involves the use of quite a few projections and recorded sound while the protagonist talks directly to the audience. There is an aspect that's more a traditional play with another character, but there's a good bit of it that's a direct address to the audience.

You've had the rare experience of talking with the playwright as you were putting this together, right?

When we applied for the rights to this show last year, we got an email from the company that handles the rights. It said that Will likes to be involved in local productions of his plays and here's his email. So, when we started to work on it, we contacted him. I thought that was pretty cool since he'd been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for drama for a previous work. He replied within 20 minutes and we've emailed back and forth a few times and each time, he answered right back.

He seems to be as super nice human. We talked about our approach and our limitations because we have basically zero budget for our show. He was fine with that and much of our approach. Sometimes he'd suggest we try something instead, but never been anything less than enthusiastic and supportive and friendly.

So that must have given you confidence going in?

Yeah, because this is different. All of his plays might be described as eccentric. He's previously been described as the Samuel Beckett for the millennial generation or something like that. He's really not, that's really not quite accurate, but I can certainly see it in him and his writing. This play in particular is what you might call a miniature or a chamber piece.

There isn't a whole lot of plot. There are two characters, one a man named Guy and a young woman named Lisa. Guy spends part of the show talking directly to the audience. He talks about matters of life and death, and how to deal with life when you are facing extreme situations and it's very funny and kinda out of left field. But it's also very moving.

I've seen it dozens of times and I still tear up at certain places because it just captures the humor and the joy and the sorrow of being alive. And it reminds me, in some ways, of Our Town though it's not in any way similar to what's happened in Grover's Corners. You kind of get that we all just try to do the best we can and we're all here together and shouldn't we all be doing our best to make things easier for other people instead of more difficult? It's a play that I think has kind of a therapeutic or healing dimension to it. I think people will come out of this show feeling very uplifted and very centered. It ranges from goofy to profound.

How do you choose the scripts that you produce?

Adam and I have tried to produce things that haven't been done in Memphis, or that Memphis isn't going to produce because they don't really fit the mold of what other theaters might want to produce. We deliberately look for things that are challenging and thought provoking, whether that's the intent of the script or the manner in which it's produced. Secondary factors: that they are one-act shows that can be produced without big, detailed sets or costumes. This show is our biggest exception to that because it does require a great deal of video and still images and the sound and projection.

Barefoot in the Park at GCT

Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park is playing at Germantown Community Theatre (GCT) through September 29th. The rom-com has fun with newlyweds (he's uptight, she's a free spirit) in their 5th-floor walkup apartment as they deal with neighbors, relatives, stairs, and Manhattan. Get tickets here.

On Golden Pond at Playhouse on the Square
Opening Friday at Playhouse on the Square is On Golden Pond, which is kind of like a geriatric Barefoot in the Park: Couple in love working out their differences while family members and people from the neighborhood keep showing up. In this one, Norman and Ethel Thayer are at the family lake house instead of Manhattan. Through October 6th. (And there's one more connection: Jane Fonda was in both movie versions). Score your tickets here

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

30 Days of Opera Popping Up for the Eighth Year

Posted By on Wed, Aug 28, 2019 at 3:25 PM

Jordan Wells lights up a camel at a past 30 Days of Opera event at the West Tennessee State Fair. - JILLIAN BARRON
  • Jillian Barron
  • Jordan Wells lights up a camel at a past 30 Days of Opera event at the West Tennessee State Fair.

It's safe to say now that 30 Days of Opera has become a tradition. The monthlong multi-event held by Opera Memphis has been around since 2012, put in place by the organization's general director Ned Canty. The idea is to bring opera to the people with a series of appearances around the area, from concerts at the Levitt Shell to random pop-up performances at busy intersections, farmers markets, dog parks, or anywhere that people may gather.

It's been growing in size and scope since its start, and Opera Memphis says that to date, almost 500,000 people have experienced opera in hundreds of performances in almost every ZIP code in Memphis. It's gotten big boosts from the National Endowment for the Arts, which has given Opera Memphis annual grants for its programs the past five years. Opera Memphis has received 63 grants totaling $377,000 since FY2012.

Nikola Printz with 30 Days of Opera at Overton Square in 2017. - OPERA MEMPHIS
  • Opera Memphis
  • Nikola Printz with 30 Days of Opera at Overton Square in 2017.
This year will again have music every day of September, including a return to the Levitt Shell where Opera Memphis will perform as part of the Orion Free Music Concert Series in Overton Park on September 13th.

Sandwiched between performances are a couple of related events. Representatives from opera companies nationwide will gather for OPERA America’s Civic Action Regional Meeting September 11th and 12th. OPERA America is an advocacy group, and the meeting and workshops in Memphis will look at how opera can serve as a tool for civic action, successful community engagement programs, and future programming and practices.

There will also be a symposium on opera and race hosted by Rhodes College and Opera Memphis. The academic and performance event — Opera & Race: Celebrating the Past, Building the Future — puts a spotlight on the role of race on and off the stage. The two-day series is September 12th and 13th and will include a concert by Opera Memphis on the 12th and lectures from guest speakers on the 13th. They are:
  • Naomi André, associate professor at the University of Michigan, Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Women’s Studies, and author of Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement
  • Giovanna Joseph, mezzo-soprano and founder and director of the award-winning OperaCréole
  • Anh Le, director of marketing and public relations at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
The opening concert of the symposium on September 12th celebrates the music of lost or rarely performed composers of African descent. It will include excerpts of Jonestown, an opera by Dr. Evan Williams of Rhodes College, performed by Opera Memphis, a featured performance by Carami Hilaire, and a solo performance by Marcus King of Margaret Bond’s Three Dream Portraits. All symposium events are free and open to the public. A full schedule of events, lectures, and panels can be found here.

This year’s 30 Days of Opera will feature a photo contest open to the public for a chance to win prizes. Attendees to any of the 30 Days events can tag Opera Memphis using the #30daysofopera hashtag on their posted photos for a chance to win two tickets, a swag bag, and more.

For event locations and dates, and information about the photo contest, go here or follow Opera Memphis on Facebook @Operamemphis.

For more information about all Opera Memphis events go here or call 901-257-3100.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Dramatis Personae: Observations from the Ostranders

Posted By on Tue, Aug 27, 2019 at 1:01 PM

The 2019 Ostrander Awards ceremony held Sunday at the Orpheum was, as one has come to expect, packed with soigné theatre lovers in character and out, in their heads and out, cheering or consoling as needed.
Debbie Litch, executive producer at Theatre Memphis. TM won 10 of the Ostrander trophies this year. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • Debbie Litch, executive producer at Theatre Memphis. TM won 10 of the Ostrander trophies this year.
The event alternated musical numbers and clusters of awards, keeping things going at a good clip. Among the highlights were Debbie Litch, executive producer at Theatre Memphis, giving the Behind the Scenes Award posthumously to Mike Lupfer. Lupfer died last year at age 81 and is remembered as a worldly man with diverse interests.

As described by Chris Davis recently in Memphis magazine, he was "a teacher, a world traveler, a family man, a theater lover, a friend to many, a past chair of the psychology department at the University of Memphis, a sometimes scoutmaster, and a paragon of local leadership and volunteerism."


Kenneth Neill, publisher at Ostrander sponsor Contemporary Media, Inc., and Elizabeth Perkins, Ostrander director. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • Kenneth Neill, publisher at Ostrander sponsor Contemporary Media, Inc., and Elizabeth Perkins, Ostrander director.

The estimable Chris Ellis transported himself from Hollywood to introduce Christina Wellford Scott, the recipient of this year's Eugart Yerian Lifetime Achievement Award. Scott and Ellis are longtime friends from back in the Pleistocene era of Memphis theater. Ellis departed the local theater scene and ended up in Hollywood where he books films and television shows with some frequency. Among his credits: Armageddon, Apollo 13, My Cousin Vinny, The Dark Knight Rises, Godzilla, Catch Me If You Can ... you get the idea. He is also an illustrator who does work for Memphis magazine as well as posting death anniversary drawings on his Facebook site, occasionally serious, frequently funny, and typically offensive.
From left: Chris Ellis, Kenneth Neill, and Christina Wellford Scott arguing over how to pronounce Ms. Scott's first name. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • From left: Chris Ellis, Kenneth Neill, and Christina Wellford Scott arguing over how to pronounce Ms. Scott's first name.
Ellis' intro of Scott was, by the way, occasionally serious, frequently funny, and typically offensive. He insisted on pronouncing the award winner's first name as "ChrisTYNE-a," causing occasional moments of apoplexy in the audience, members of which would holler "ChrisTEEN-a" to no avail.

Kell Christie directed the all-woman Lizzie: The Musical at New Moon Theatre, which won Best Ensemble in a Musical, and earned awards for Annie Freres as Best Supporting Actress, and for Gene Elliott for Best Sound Design for a Musical. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • Kell Christie directed the all-woman Lizzie: The Musical at New Moon Theatre, which won Best Ensemble in a Musical, and earned awards for Annie Freres as Best Supporting Actress, and for Gene Elliott for Best Sound Design for a Musical.

The director Dennis Whitehead Darling got the gold of the evening, winning Best Direction of a Drama in the community and professional division for The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders at Hattiloo Theatre, and Best Direction in the collegiate division for Intimate Apparel at the University of Memphis. Parchman also won Best Production of a Drama and Intimate Apparel won Best Overall Production. Yes, but what has he done lately you ask? Go to Hattiloo this weekend and see Jelly's Last Jam through September 1st.

Veteran actor Curtis C. Jackson (left) with Karl Robinson, winner of this year's Larry Riley Rising Star Award. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • Veteran actor Curtis C. Jackson (left) with Karl Robinson, winner of this year's Larry Riley Rising Star Award.

It was also a splendid evening for Jason Spitzer who picked up two awards for Little Women: Best Original Script and Best Production of an Original Script. Spitzer is somewhat of a fearless genius who adapts and directs stories that he loves. A few years ago he revamped a turgid version of A Christmas Carol at TM and, well, God bless us every one for that improvement.
Jason Spitzer (left) nabbed two awards for Little Women at Theatre Memphis' Next Stage: Best Original Script and Best Production of an Original Script. The play also got a Best Costume Design for a Drama award for Heather Steward. At right is Jim Palmer, who won the Eugart Yerian Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 along with his wife, Jo Lynne Palmer. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • Jason Spitzer (left) nabbed two awards for Little Women at Theatre Memphis' Next Stage: Best Original Script and Best Production of an Original Script. The play also got a Best Costume Design for a Drama award for Heather Steward. At right is Jim Palmer, who won the Eugart Yerian Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 along with his wife, Jo Lynne Palmer.

Jason Gerhard was on both sides of the awards ceremonies, first getting his own plaque as Best Featured Performer in a Drama for his work in Junk at Circuit Playhouse, and then introducing the winner of the Larry Riley Rising Star Award, Karl Robinson.
Jason Gerhard, winner of Best Featured Performer in a Drama for his work in Junk at Circuit Playhouse. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • Jason Gerhard, winner of Best Featured Performer in a Drama for his work in Junk at Circuit Playhouse.

First time winners are predictably excited, but few were as over the moon as Ariona Campbell, who won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama in the collegiate division for Crumbs from the Table of Joy at Southwest Tennessee Community College. She attended the ceremonies with daughter London.
Ariona Campbell won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama in the collegiate division for Crumbs from the Table of Joy at Southwest Tennessee Community College. With her at the Orpheum ceremonies is her daughter London. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • Ariona Campbell won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama in the collegiate division for Crumbs from the Table of Joy at Southwest Tennessee Community College. With her at the Orpheum ceremonies is her daughter London.

After the ceremonies, attendees adjourned to the Halloran Center next door to further schmooze, emote, pose, crack wise, and try to impress potential directors. After all, these are theater people, people.
John Maness was one of two winners for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his work in TM's 1776. The other awardee was Michael 'Quick Change Artist' Gravois in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at Playhouse on the Square. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • John Maness was one of two winners for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his work in TM's 1776. The other awardee was Michael 'Quick Change Artist' Gravois in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at Playhouse on the Square.

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Theater Honors Its Own at the Annual Ostrander Awards

Posted By on Sun, Aug 25, 2019 at 9:04 PM

A stellar Ostranders: Dennis Whitehead Darling won two awards for best direction. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • A stellar Ostranders: Dennis Whitehead Darling won two awards for best direction.
It was a brilliant evening at the Ostranders for busy director Dennis Whitehead Darling. The annual theater award event sponsored by Memphis magazine and ArtsMemphis was held at the Orpheum Sunday honoring people and productions around the city, and he earned two nods for best direction, one for The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders at Hattiloo Theatre and the other for Intimate Apparel at the University of Memphis.

The former was in the community and professional category and the latter in the collegiate division. Transcending categories is what Whitehead Darling does — he was the first Opera Memphis McCleave Fellow in Directing, named a year ago, and will be directing at Opera Birmingham next year. And for good measure, he directed Jelly's Last Jam now showing at Hattiloo.

The Parchman Hour racked up five Ossies for Hattiloo, for Best Production of a Drama, Sound Design for a Drama, Choreography/Fight Choreography for a Drama, Ensemble in a Drama, as well as for Whitehead Darling's direction.

The University of Memphis' Intimate Apparel won 12 Ostrander - Awards.
  • The University of Memphis' Intimate Apparel won 12 Ostrander Awards.
In the College category, Intimate Apparel took 12 of the awards. U of M's Be More Chill won 6.

The community/professional side was dominated by Theatre Memphis with awards for Hairspray, 1776, Little Women, and Newsies.

The Ostranders ceremonies often include special awards, the most distinguished of which is the Eugart Yerian Lifetime Achievement honor that went to stage veteran Christina Wellford Scott. Other distinctions included the Larry Riley Rising Star Award to Karl Robinson, the Gypsy Award to Brittany Church, and the Behind the Scenes Award given posthumously to Michael Lupfer.

As in the past, financial support for the awards event was provided by Michael McLaren and Judge Diane Vescovo.

If you're keeping score of multiple winners in the community/professional division, Theatre Memphis walked away with 10 awards, Playhouse on the Square 6, Next Theatre at TM 5, Hattiloo Theatre 5, New Moon Theatre 5, and Circuit Playhouse 3.

New Moon's Lizzie: The Musical won three Ostranders. - NEW MOON
  • New Moon
  • New Moon's Lizzie: The Musical won three Ostranders.
Hattiloo's The Parchman Hour earned 5 and TM's Hairspray 4. Winning 3 each were POTS' The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, New Moon's Lizzie: The Musical, TM's Little Women, Newsies, and 1776. TM's Clean House and POTS' Tuck Everlasting got two apiece.

In the college division, U of M ran away with 19, 12 of which were for Intimate Apparel and 6 for Be More Chill.
Timothy Marsh and Erica Peninger in the Theatre Memphis production of Hairspray, which won four Ossies, including one for Peninger as Best Leading Actress in a Musical. - THEATRE MEMPHIS
  • Theatre Memphis
  • Timothy Marsh and Erica Peninger in the Theatre Memphis production of Hairspray, which won four Ossies, including one for Peninger as Best Leading Actress in a Musical.

Here is the complete list of winners:

COMMUNITY AND PROFESSIONAL

Best Set Design of a Drama: Bryce Cutler, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, POTS
Best Set Design of a Musical: Jack Yates, Hairspray, TM
Best Costume Design for a Drama: Heather Steward, Little Women, Next Stage, TM
Best Costume Design for a Musical: Amie Eoff, 1776, TM
Best Hair/Wig/Makeup for a Drama: Lindsay Schmeling, The Legend of Georgia McBride, CP
Best Hair/Wig/Makeup for a Musical: Barbara Sanders, 1776, TM
Best Props Design for a Drama: Jack Yates, The Clean House, Next Stage, TM
Best Props Design for a Musical: Brandyn Nordlof, Tuck Everlasting, POTS
Best Lighting Design for a Drama: Justin Gibson, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, POTS
Best Lighting Design for a Musical: Justin Gibson, Tuck Everlasting, POTS
Best Sound Design for a Drama: Ashley Davis, The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo
Best Sound Design for a Musical: Gene Elliott, Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon
Best Music Direction: Jeff Brewer, Newsies, TM
Best Choreography/Fight Choreography for a Drama: Naivell Steib, The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo
Best Choreography for a Musical: Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley, Newsies, TM
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama: Aliza Moran, The Clean House, Next Stage, TM
Best Supporting Actress in a Musical: Annie Freres, Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon
Best Leading Actress in a Drama: Kim Sanders, Sweat, CP
Best Leading Actress in a Musical: Erica Peninger, Hairspray, TM
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama: Oliver Jacob Pierce, Twelfth Night, New Moon
Best Supporting Actor in a Musical: Luke Conner, Newsies, TM
Best Leading Actor in a Drama: Ryan Duda, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, POTS
Best Leading Actor in a Musical (2 winners): John Maness, 1776, TM and Michael Gravois, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, POTS
Best Featured Performer in a Drama: Jason Gerhard, Junk, CP
Best Featured Performer in a Musical: Daniel Kopera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Harrell
Best Ensemble in a Drama: The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo
Best Ensemble in a Musical: Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon
Best Direction of a Drama: Dennis Whitehead Darling, The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo
Best Direction of a Musical: Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley, Hairspray, TM
Best Production of a Drama: The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo
Best Production of a Musical: Hairspray, TM
Playhouse on the Square's Tuck Everlasting won two Ostrander Awards. - CARLA MCDONALD
  • Carla McDonald
  • Playhouse on the Square's Tuck Everlasting won two Ostrander Awards.

COLLEGE

Best Set Design: Kenton Jones, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Costume Design: Jen Gillette, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Hair/Wig/Makeup: Jen Gilette, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Props Design: Karen Arredondo, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Lighting Design: Zoey Smith, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Sound Design: Anthony Pellecchia, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Music Direction: Jacob Allen, Be More Chill, U of M
Best Choreography: Jill Guyton Nee, Be More Chill, U of M
Special Award: Intimacy Choreography: Roberta Inscho-Cox, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama: Ariona Campbell, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Southwest Tennessee Community College
Best Supporting Actress in a Musical: Lea Mae Aldridge, Be More Chill, U of M
Best Leading Actress in a Drama: Simmery Branch, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Leading Actress in a Musical: Aly Milan, Be More Chill, U of M
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama: Toby Davis, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Supporting Actor in a Musical – College: Landon Ricker, Be More Chill, U of M
Best Leading Actor in a Drama: Christian Hinton, Shaming JANE DOE, U of M
Best Leading Actor in a Musical: Toby Davis, Be More Chill, U of M
Best Featured Performer: Jasmine Roberts, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Ensemble: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (2018 version), Rhodes College
Best Direction: Dennis Whitehead Darling, Intimate Apparel, U of M
Best Overall Production: Intimate Apparel, U of M

OTHER AWARDS

Best Original Script: Little Women, Next Stage, TM
Best Production of an Original Script: Little Women, Next Stage, TM
Larry Riley Rising Star: Karl Robinson
Gypsy: Brittany Church
Behind the Scenes: Mike Lupfer (posthumously)
Eugart Yerian Lifetime Achievement: Christina Wellford Scott

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Tony Isbell: Discovering The Humans

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2019 at 3:40 PM

Tony Isbell, director of The Humans at Circuit Playhouse. - JON W. SPARKS
  • Jon W. Sparks
  • Tony Isbell, director of The Humans at Circuit Playhouse.
Tony Isbell is drawn to certain kinds of plays, those, he says, with natural, honest, and truthful dialogue — and relationships that are "juicy." So when Michael Detroit, executive producer at Playhouse on the Square, asked him to direct The Humans, Isbell said he'd give it a read. "I immediately fell in love with it. Playwright Stephen Karam has a way with dialogue that is maybe the most naturalistic that I've ever read or dealt with."

The play runs at Circuit Playhouse through September 8th and has lured a remarkable cast.
Jo Lynne Palmer, Christina Wellford Scott, Barclay Roberts, Lena Wallace Black, Brooke Papritz, and Steven Burk tell the story of a family that has gathered for Thanksgiving. It's a common storytelling device, but the execution of it is far from typical, Isbell says.

"On the surface it seems maybe familiar, like something we've seen before," he says. "It's like one of those slice of life dramas where we see a family get together and spend time together. There's a grandmother, parents, grown daughters, and one of the daughter's new boyfriend. But this is not one of those plays where there's a big astounding revelation that people then spend the next hour fighting over. There are a lot of smaller revelations that people deal with, like people do in real life."

For Isbell, this is the heart of the production, the relationships among characters. "I am less interested as a director in a spectacle and you know, cool sets and costumes. I mean, yeah, I like all those things, but I try to provide the best possible ground for actors to really shine and really dig their teeth into something. And these people do."

They're a blue collar, lower middle class family, recognizably Irish American Catholic hard-working stock. And there are pressures: an ailing parent, financial stresses, children who have strayed a bit from the church. "The most important thing about this play in one way is the fact that these characters all love each other," Isbell says. "They have some conflicts, they resolve them, they love each other, they make fun of each other, they laugh with each other, they occasionally cry with each other."

To know Isbell is to appreciate his passion for theater. He is a co-founder of Quark Theatre (its slogan is "Small Plays About Big Ideas") and as it embarks on its fourth year, it continues with its mission to get under the skin and make viewers feel and think and react. So while The Humans is not Quark fare, it is very much in that spirit. And you won't have to wait long for Quark's first show of the season. The Memphis premiere of Wakey Wakey by Will Eno opens September 20th at TheatreSouth.

For Isbell, having shows bunching up like this is next to normal. "I've averaged about three shows a year over the last 40 years," he says, "which seems unbelievable, but that's kind of what I've done." That's a long commitment to directing and acting at venues all around the area, and his devotion was noted last year when he was honored with the Eugart Yerian Lifetime Achievement Award at the Ostrander ceremonies. He is quick to point out that he's not the only lifetime achiever in The Humans. Jo Lynne Palmer received the award a few years ago and Christina Wellford Scott will take it home this Sunday from this year's Ostrander ceremonies.

So Isbell is confident that audiences will be drawn in to the play and will take something home. "It will probably leave you questioning some things and will probably have you discussing it with your companion saying, 'I think this was like this' and then 'No, I think it was like this.' It'll be that kind of thing."

The Humans
8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. The Circuit Playhouse, 51 South Cooper Street. Call 901 726-4656 or visit the website.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Q&A with Cecelia Wingate

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2019 at 1:04 PM

Cecelia Wingate
  • Cecelia Wingate
Cecelia Wingate is in the director's chair again, this time helming the Theatre Memphis production of Mamma Mia! It's been quite the eventful year for the actor/director/force of nature. In March, she directed 1776 at TM, and then one day in May got what people with a dramatic flair might proclaim as a call of destiny. Wingate had all of 10 days to get to New York to rehearse for a production of Byhalia, Mississippi that would be staged for a month at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The play, written by Memphian Evan Linder, was performed in Memphis in early 2016 and had an award-winning staging in Chicago with Wingate soon after. Broadway producer Jeffrey Finn heard about it and had Wingate come to New York in late 2016 for a table read. That was the last she'd heard about it until she was summoned in May.

After the Byhalia run ended last month, she hustled back to Memphis where rehearsals of Mamma Mia! had already started without her.

Memphis Flyer: How did you work that situation out?

Cecelia Wingate: I approached it the smartest way I knew how, which was to find a damn good choreographer. I had Jeff Brewer as my music director and he always hits a home run, so I knew I was in great hands there. But then there's the choreography. Let's face it, people want to come in here and see people do things to that music — they're not coming for the story. I had to have a dynamite choreographer, so that's why we went with Whitney Branan, who is so good at what she does. She keeps everything exciting, and what I love about Whitney as a choreographer is she really knows how to tell a story. The two things I left her with when I went to D.C., knowing that they were going to have eight music rehearsals without me and three or four choreography rehearsals, was to (a) tell the story and (b) take the focus where it needs to go. I feel there's always so much happening in big productions that you have to take the audience's eye where it's supposed to go. Those are two things I'd left her with, and she listened to me, so I didn't have to come in and really change anything.

MF: When Mamma Mia! opened on Broadway, the notices said things like, "You can only wince," "hokey, implausible and silly," and "thoroughly preposterous." And these were from the critics that loved it. So what's the deal with this musical?

CW: It is not one of my favorite musicals. I'm generally not a fan of jukebox musicals although Jersey Boys I think is the most successful — they found a way to really tell a story. Most jukebox musicals have such a flimsy story, but not Mamma Mia! The difference is that it's that music, it's ABBA. I told my cast there is no way that this show should have ever been a hit, much less a smash hit that continues to be here all these years later. But people love it. It just blows my mind. Another reason that I really like it at this particular time is because it's just fun and a celebration, and God knows we need a dose of that right now. There's just so much noise out there. It's great to just get away and not think about the news and just have some fun.

MF: Since March, you've directed 1776, you starred in Byhalia, Mississippi, you're back to direct Mamma Mia! — so what's next?

CW: I'm going to sit on my ass for as long as I can. I have not stopped, not even slowed down really since before Shrek, and that was two years. So I'm not gonna take anything that I don't really want to do. I mean, if something else happens with Byhalia, I would do that. I mean, if it does move to New York, but you know, if it does that, it's probably going to be Kathy Bates or somebody, and that'll be fine with me.

MF: You retired from FedEx, so you had the time to go to New York for rehearsals and then Washington, D.C., for performances, but it was short notice. Your friends came to the rescue?

CW: I have the best friends in the world, I'm telling you, it is unbelievable. I had three different people at my house and there was always somebody there with my cat. I had a tree struck by lightning that came down. They all came with their chainsaws and cut it and stacked it and moved it, so I didn't have to deal with that. And my assistant director for this show, Olivia Lee Gacka, was like my house business manager. She had it all down. The most wonderful thing about that experience was getting to step a toe on the Kennedy Center stage, but what was really, really special about that time is the support that I felt from Memphis, Tennessee.

MF: You had a lot of hometown folks see you in D.C.?

CW: I never felt so supported in my life and, and so many people came up there, I can't even count. I'd been in New York for three weeks rehearsing and that was all fun and busy. And I got to D.C., but once we got officially open and I had free time, I was like, oh, I'm going get homesick and lonesome. But I never did because there was always somebody there.

MF: So you catapulted from one reality to another.

CW: D.C. feels different now, but it's still such a beautiful city. I was so lucky to be there for five weeks and three days, but I was ready to come home. And then I landed here at 5:16 p.m. on a Monday and got in the car and came straight to Theatre Memphis for this and haven't stopped since. It's an exciting, dedicated cast, I'll say that. It's been drama-free, which is fantastic. I just hope it's fun. I hope people have fun and they come with a few cocktails in them and just know that all we're doing it for is a celebration and the music. And the party.

Mamma Mia! at Theatre Memphis on the Lohrey Stage, 630 Perkins Ext., through September 8th. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $35, $15 students, $30 seniors 62 and above and military personnel. Call 901-682-8323. Theatre Memphis.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tennessee Shakespeare Embarks on 2019-2020 Season

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Tennessee Shakespeare Company's Dan McCleary. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Tennessee Shakespeare Company's Dan McCleary.
Tennessee Shakespeare Company’s 2019-20 season will have a variety of plays, readings, music, and Elizabethan food.

Scheduled are several regional premieres along with a new tiered ticket pricing and reserved seating.

The 12th season, titled Discover to Yourself (a line from Julius Caesar) has a production of Julius Caesar as its centerpiece, directed by TSC’s producing artistic director Dan McCleary. It will be performed at TSC’s new Owen and Margaret Wellford Tabor Stage at 7950 Trinity Road.

The lineup includes four full-stage productions, two new musical readings, TSC’s annual Southern Literary Salon, free and touring Shakespeare productions, an Elizabethan Feast, a family show for all ages and a VIP Broadway Composer evening. Several productions will be Mid-South stage premieres.
  • The season starts September 10th with the fairy tale of Pericles in the third annual Free Shout-Out Shakespeare Series. The 80-minute touring production of Shakespeare’s late romance will perform indoors and outdoors in the area. Performances will be in 10 different venues over of 11 days. Performances are free.
  • Julius Caesar (Sept. 25-Oct. 6)
  • Broadway Stories and Songs: An Intimate Evening with Big Fish Composer Andrew Lippa (Oct. 26).
  • Showplace Memphis: Musical Works in Progress (Nov. 2).
  • Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, directed by Stephanie Shine (Dec. 4-22).
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Dwayne Hartford, based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo (Jan. 28–Feb. 16, 2020).
  • Southern Literary Salon: The Unlikely Sisterhood of Zora Neale Hurston and Margaret Mitchell (Feb. 23).
  • Showplace Memphis: Musical Works in Progress, (March 28).
  • The Elizabethan Feast benefiting TSC’s Education and Outreach Program (April 25).
For more information on the programming and ticketing, go to the TSC website here.

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