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

pic-poster-julius-caesar-2019.jpg
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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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Ostrander Nominations Announced for 2019

Posted By on Tue, Jul 30, 2019 at 12:44 PM

Tuck Everlasting at Playhouse on the Square - CARLA MCDONALD
  • Carla McDonald
  • Tuck Everlasting at Playhouse on the Square
The 36th annual Ostrander Awards comes together on August 25th at the Orpheum, honoring the best of most of Memphis theater for the 2018-2019 season. The judges have conferred and come up with the nominees listed here.

The one winner we know for certain this year is veteran actor Christina Wellford Scott, who will receive the Eugart Yerian Award for Lifetime Achievement. That honor is given to those who have distinguished themselves for years of contributions to the local performance community.

More information on the Ostranders is here. Tickets are available in advance for $15 plus fees, and at the door for $20. A ticket includes the post-event reception at the Halloran Centre. They're available here.

In the collegiate division, dramas and musicals are in one category for the majority of awards. In the community and professional division, awards are split by drama or musical.

If you're counting, Theatre Memphis (Lohrey Stage) has 43 nominations, TM's Next Stage 30, Playhouse on the Square 37, Circuit Playhouse 22, New Moon Theatre 13, Hattiloo Theatre 8, Harrell Theatre 4, and POTS@TheWorks 3.

Thanks as always to Memphis magazine, ArtsMemphis, and the Orpheum Theatre Group for making it possible.

Community & Professional Division

Best Set Design of a Drama
• Andrew Mannion, Sweat, Circuit Playhouse
• Brian Ruggaber & Melanie Mulder, The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo Theatre
• Bryce Cutler, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square
• Jack Yates, Heisenberg, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Jack Yates, The Clean House, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis

Best Set Design of a Musical
• Jack Yates, 1776, Theatre Memphis
• Jack Yates, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Jack Yates, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Jack Yates, Newsies, Theatre Memphis
• Tim McMath, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square

Best Costume Design for a Drama 
• Amie Eoff, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Theatre Memphis
• Ashley Kopera, Twelfth Night, New Moon
• Heather Steward, Little Women, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Lindsay Schmeling, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Circuit Playhouse
• Waverly Strickland, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square

Best Costume Design for a Musical
• Amie Eoff, 1776, Theatre Memphis
• Amie Eoff, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Amie Eoff, Newsies, Theatre Memphis
• Kathleen R. Kovarik, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Playhouse on the Square
• Kathleen R. Kovarik, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square

Best Hair/Wig/Makeup for a Drama
• Lindsay Schmeling, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Circuit Playhouse
• Barbara Sanders, Little Women, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Heather Steward and Lindsay Taylor, Dracula, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Buddy Hart & Rence Phillips, Steel Magnolias, Harrell Theatre
• Alexandria Perel-Sams, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Theatre Memphis

Best Hair/Wig/Makeup for a Musical
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Playhouse on the Square
• Barbara Sanders, 1776, Theatre Memphis
• Buddy Hart & Rence Phillips, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Kathleen R. Kovarik, Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square
• Waverly Strickland, Madagascar, Circuit Playhouse

Best Props Design for a Drama
• Betty Dilley, Steel Magnolias, Harrell Theatre
• Brandyn Nordlof, Sweat, Circuit Playhouse
• Brandyn Nordlof, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square
• Jack Yates, Heisenberg, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Jack Yates, The Clean House, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis

Best Props Design for a Musical
• Brandyn Nordlof & Abby Teel, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Playhouse on the Square
• Brandyn Nordlof, Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square
• Brandyn Nordlof, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square
• Jack Yates, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Jack Yates, Newsies, Theatre Memphis

Best Lighting Design for a Drama
• Alyssandra Docherty, The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo Theatre
• Justin Gibson, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square
• Mandy Kay Heath, The Clean House, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Trey Eikleberry and Justin Gibson, Junk, Circuit Playhouse
• Trey Eikleberry, Sweat, Circuit Playhouse

Best Lighting Design for a Musical
• Justin Gibson, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square
• Mandy Kay Heath, 1776, Theatre Memphis
• Mandy Kay Heath, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Mandy Kay Heath, Newsies, Theatre Memphis
• Melissa Andrews & Thomas Halfacre, Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon Theatre

Best Sound Design for a Drama
• Ashley Davis, The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo Theatre
• Carter McHann, Sweat, Circuit Playhouse
• Joe Johnson, Heisenberg, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Joe Johnson, The Clean House, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Travis Bradley, Carter McHann, & Jordan Nichols, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square

Best Sound Design for a Musical
• Carter McHann, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square
• Gene Elliott, Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon Theatre
• Jason Eschhofen & Reyn Lehman, 1776, Theatre Memphis
• Joshua Crawford, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Joshua Crawford, Newsies, Theatre Memphis

Best Music Direction
• Eileen Kuo, Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon Theatre
• Gary Beard, 1776, Theatre Memphis
• Jeff Brewer, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Jeff Brewer, Newsies, Theatre Memphis
• Nathan McHenry, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Playhouse on the Square

Best Choreography/Fight Choreography for a Drama
• Brittany Church, The Clean House, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Courtney Oliver & Donald Sutton, Sweat, Circuit Playhouse
• Daniel Stuart Nelson, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Circuit Playhouse
• Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square
• Naivell Steib, The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo Theatre

Best Choreography for a Musical
• Daniel Stuart Nelson, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square
• Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley, Newsies, Theatre Memphis
• Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Travis Bradley, Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square
• Whitney Branan, Madagascar, Circuit Playhouse

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama
• Aliza Moran, The Clean House, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Annie Freres, Twelfth Night, New Moon Theatre
• Danika Norfleet, A Song for Coretta, Hattiloo Theatre
• Susan Brindley, Agnes of God, New Moon Theatre
• Tamara Wright, The Clean House, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
• Annie Freres, Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon Theatre
• Edna Dinwiddie, 1776, Theatre Memphis
• Jaclyn Suffel, Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon Theatre
• Rebecca Johnson, Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square
• Whitney Branan, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis

Best Leading Actress in a Drama
• Jaclyn Suffel, The Clean House, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Jessica Jai Johnson, Sweat, Circuit Playhouse
• Kim Sanders, Sweat, Circuit Playhouse
• Natalie Jones, Heisenberg, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Sarah Jo Biggs, Little Women, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis

Best Leading Actress in a Musical
• Christina Hernandez, Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon Theatre
• Erica Peninger, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Jenny Wilson, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Kelly McCarty, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square
• Whitney Branan, Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama
• Andrew Chandler, Dracula, Theatre Memphis
• JS Tate, Sweat, Circuit Playhouse
• Justin Allen Tate, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Circuit Playhouse
• Michael Gravois, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square
• Oliver Jacob Pierce, Twelfth Night, New Moon Theatre

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
• Donald Sutton, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square
• Javier Pena, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Luke Conner, Newsies, Theatre Memphis
• Michael Gravois, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square
• Talen Piner, Madagascar, Circuit Playhouse

Best Leading Actor in a Drama
• Danny Crowe, 1984, Circuit Playhouse
• Gabe Beutel-Gunn, Junk, Circuit Playhouse
• Jason Spitzer, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Theatre Memphis
• Ryan Duda, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square
• TC Sharpe, The Miraculous and the Mundane, POTS@TheWorks

Best Leading Actor in a Musical 
• Bradley Karel, Newsies, Theatre Memphis
• Donald Sutton, Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square
• John Maness, 1776, Theatre Memphis
• Michael Gravois, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Playhouse on the Square
• Ryan Gilliam, The Producers, Harrell Theatre

Best Featured Performer in a Drama
• Christina Wellford Scott, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square
• Jason Gerhard, Junk, Circuit Playhouse
• Jimbo Lattimore, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Theatre Memphis
• Lena Wallace Black, Little Women, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Steven Brown, Little Women, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis

Best Featured Performer in a Musical
• Ann Marie Hall, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square
• Daniel Kopera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Harrell Theatre
• Jason Eschhofen, 1776, Theatre Memphis
• Jimbo Lattimore, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• Kirie Walz, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Kristin Doty, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Playhouse on the Square

Best Ensemble in a Drama
Little Women, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
Sweat, Circuit Playhouse
The Clean House, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square
The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo Theatre

Best Ensemble in a Musical
1776, Theatre Memphis
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon Theatre
Newsies, Theatre Memphis

Best Direction of a Drama
• Dennis Whitehead-Darling, The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo Theatre
• Irene Crist, Sweat, Circuit Playhouse
• Jason Spitzer, Little Women, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
• John Maness, Twelfth Night, New Moon Theatre
• Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square

Best Direction of a Musical
• Cecelia Wingate, 1776, Theatre Memphis
• Dave Landis, Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square
• Dave Landis, Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square
• Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley, Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
• Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley, Newsies, Theatre Memphis

Best Production of a Drama
Little Women, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
Sweat, Circuit Playhouse
The Clean House, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Playhouse on the Square
The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the ‘61 Freedom Riders, Hattiloo Theatre

Best Production of a Musical
Hairspray, Theatre Memphis
1776, Theatre Memphis
Newsies, Theatre Memphis
Lizzie: The Musical, New Moon Theatre
Tuck Everlasting, Playhouse on the Square

College Division

Best Set Design
• Brian Ruggaber, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Kenton Jones, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis
• Nicholas Jackson, Shaming JANE DOE, University of Memphis

Best Costume Design
• Kennon Cliche, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Jen Gillette, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis
• Jen Gillette, Shaming JANE DOE, University of Memphis

Best Hair/Wig/Makeup
• Emily Greene, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Jen Gilette, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis
• Rebecca Koenig & Keyauna Shorter, Shaming JANE DOE, University of Memphis

Best Props Design
• Kenton Jones, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Karen Arredondo, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis
• Hattie Fann, Shaming JANE DOE, University of Memphis

Best Lighting Design
• Anthony Pellecchia, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Melissa Andrews, Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine, Rhodes College
• Zoey Smith, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis

Best Sound Design
• John Phillians, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Anthony Pellecchia, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis
• Sophia Deck, Rose and the Rime, Rhodes College

Best Music Direction
• Jacob Allen, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Eileen Kuo, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (2018 version), Rhodes College

Best Choreography
• Jill Guyton Nee, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (2018 version), Rhodes College

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama 
• Ariona Campbell, Crumbs from the Table of Joy, Southwest Tennessee Community College
• Hiawartha Jackson, Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine, Rhodes College
• Eboni Cain, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
• Erica Peninger, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Lea Mae Aldridge, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Marlee Wilson, Be More Chill, University of Memphis

Best Leading Actress in a Drama
• Jessica Jai Johnson, Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine, Rhodes College,
• Simmery Branch, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis
• Grace Small, Rose and the Rime, Rhodes College

Best Leading Actress in a Musical
• Aly Milan, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Jess Brookes, Closer Than Ever, Southwest Tennessee Community College

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama
• Adrian Harris, Fabulation or, The Re-Education of Undine, Rhodes College
• Toby Davis, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical  (one nominee)

Best Leading Actor in a Drama
• Brandon Lewis, Imagination, Southwest Tennessee Community College
• Willis Green, Rose and the Rime, Rhodes College
• Christian Hinton, Shaming JANE DOE, University of Memphis

Best Leading Actor in a Musical
• Toby Davis, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Winston Mize, Closer Than Ever, Southwest Tennessee Community College

Best Featured Performer
• Riley Thad Young, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Jasmine Roberts, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis
• John Ross Graham, Shaming JANE DOE, University of Memphis

Best Ensemble
Be More Chill, University of Memphis
Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (2018 version), Rhodes College

Best Direction
• Justin Braun, Be More Chill, University of Memphis
• Dennis Whitehead-Darling, Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis
• Joy Brooke Fairfield, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (2018 version), Rhodes College

Best Overall Production
Be More Chill, University of Memphis
Intimate Apparel, University of Memphis
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (2018 version), Rhodes College

All Divisions

Best Original Script
Shaming JANE DOE, University of Memphis
Little Women, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
The Miraculous and the Mundane, POTS@TheWorks

Best Production of an Original Script
Shaming JANE DOE, University of Memphis
Little Women, Next Stage, Theatre Memphis
The Miraculous and the Mundane, POTS@TheWorks

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Grand News - New Ballet Ensemble Receives $30,000 Via National Endowment for the Arts

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2019 at 3:51 PM

New Ballet Ensemble
  • New Ballet Ensemble
Great news for Memphis' forward-thinking, fusion-oriented classical dance troupe. New Ballet Ensemble & School (NBES) has been awarded a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

The money awarded to NBES will enable the continuation of dance residency programs in the Orange Mound community.

“Organizations such as New Ballet Ensemble & School are giving people in their community the opportunity to learn, create, and be inspired,” Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, wrote in a prepared statement.

Via press materials:

"The NEA grant award will support NBES’ residency programs in Orange Mound schools, including Dunbar Elementary. NBES has been working with Dunbar Elementary since 2007, and NEA support has helped grow the partnership over the years with tuition-free, after-school classes in ballet, hip-hop, Flamenco, and West African dance. NEA funding will also support students who are moving from Dunbar into the NBES studio program on scholarship for advanced training.
In 2019, NBES will graduate three seniors who began their training at Dunbar in 2007 and advanced through the studio program. These three students collectively earned $4,138,188 in scholarships from the various colleges they applied to, and all received full scholarships to their colleges of choice, including Vanderbilt University, Christian Brothers University, and Xavier University of Louisiana. "

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Friday, May 10, 2019

Popular Children's Theater Stage Door Productions Announces Shut Down

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2019 at 4:11 PM

Kroc Center - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Kroc Center
UPDATE: The Kroc has responded to questions. Says understanding differs from social media accounts but does not say how. A lightly edited version of their statement is quoted at the bottom of this report.

Stage Door Productions, a 501C3 company that has hosted classes and camps and produced kid-sized Broadway musicals at the theater housed inside Memphis' Kroc Center, announced it would end operations Monday, May 13th. The announcement arrives in the wake of public allegations related to the procedural handling of a harassment complaint.

"We want each and every one of you to know how incredibly difficult this decision is to make," an email to the Legally Blonde cast and camp attendees read. The announcement came with a charge to the company's young participants: "Feel every emotion freely, but only for one hour. After that let your anger go."
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"I can confirm Stage Door Productions programming will cease on Monday, following the final performance of Legally Blonde Jr. this Sunday," Stage Door co-founder Brandon Kelly wrote in an email. Kelly said he would consider sharing more information at a later time. "Right now, we will be focusing our love, passion, and support entirely on the kids in our final show. They are the ones most affected and need our support and complete attention."

Allegations regarding the mishandling of a harassment complaint appeared on Facebook last week. They were widely shared, generating community support and backlash. Less than a week after the original May 3rd posting, Stage Door shared a letter that appears to say there was no official knowledge of the complaint prior to the recent Facebook posting. "Since this has been brought to our attention, we have had an internal and external review done at Stage Door," the communication stated.  Stage Door's Facebook page is now offline. The website is live but inactive. 
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The Kroc Center has not yet responded to The Flyer's request for information. Pages related to the facilities art programs and to Lindsay and Brandon Kelly are not currently live.
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According to the most recent information posted at guidestar.org, Stage Door had posted regular losses of up to $10,000 in net assets since 2015 when that value was pegged at $91,425.
————————-

Latest Update: The Kroc responds:

"For the past five years, The Salvation Army Kroc Center – Memphis has partnered with Stage Door Productions (SDP) to provide quality theatre opportunities for the youth in our area. SDP, an independent non-profit, worked to provide a meaningful arts experience for its participants. Kroc Center members valued SDP’s programming expertise and SDP valued the Kroc’s outstanding facilities.

Last week, we were made aware of a social media post with troubling accusations within SDP of sexual harassment and abuse between two underage cast members from 18 months ago. We acted immediately—launching an internal review and ensuring the incident allegation was reported to Tennessee’s Child Protective Services."



"The Salvation Army has a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of abuse or harassment. Our staff are well trained in appropriate behavior and how to spot signs of abuse in others. Though SDP is a separate entity, we hold them to the highest standards for safety and professionalism.



Our understanding of events vary from those reported in social media. We are still conducting our review and will fully cooperate with the authorities in investigation. Because those referenced are minors and this is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to comment about specifics. Our prayers are with each one and we ask you to join us with your prayers.

Today, SDP announced it is ceasing programming effective Monday, May 13, 2019. While we are ending our work with SPD, the Arts remain a vital and vibrant pillar of the Kroc’s purpose. We are looking at ways to expand our existing arts education offerings. We know the value the Arts have on overall student achievement and want to do our part to build tomorrow’s leaders. We consistently look for ways to improve member experiences, program quality, and program offerings. Just as we strive to inspire excellence, so do we strive to be excellent." 

This post will be updated as more information becomes available. 

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Playhouse On The Square Invites You To The Cabaret

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2019 at 12:53 PM

The cast of Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square
  • The cast of Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square
"No use permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret"
— "Cabaret"

I posted some thoughts about Cabaret's nearly infuriating relevance last week. It was a kind of preview for Playhouse on the Square's opening. Only, instead of looking behind the scenes, it went behind the text to ask where all the Nazis came from. And, by extension, I wanted to know where America's Nazis went when the U.S. entered WWII and the national narrative turned against them.

As musical theater rollouts go, it was a pretty bleak exercise. But even a week ago, I don't think I could have anticipated the kinds of headlines I'd wake up to on the morning I sat down to write the review. Twitter was full of news about racism, misogyny, drunkenness, sexual exhibitionism and drug use inside Tennessee's GOP leadership — rot in the head of an organization so grotesque it wouldn't hear, let alone approve, a 2018 proposal to condemn Nazis and white supremacy. But the headline that really got my attention was this: "Man Patrolling With Border Militia Suggested Going ‘Back To Hitler Days."
“Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them?”  Armando Gonzalez was quoted as saying. “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.”

That's a lot to deal with at the top of a review, but hard to ignore given Cabaret's subject matter and Playhouse on the Square's sometimes very brave and sometimes ragged interpretation of material that stubbornly refuses to become nostalgia.

As taught in schools, history is the story of great men, noble ideas, and the march of progress. But history is a horror show that we live inside and can't escape. It's a theme we see even in mainstream entertainments these days, and in that vein, Cabaret director Dave Landis effectively takes us "back to the Hitler days."  His Cabaret bends the all the weirdness and decadence of Berlin's club scene toward hallucinogenic nightmare. 
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Inspired by I Am A Camera, I've previously written how Cabaret, shows three snapshots of Germany during Hitler's rise to power: a sentimental Berlin, a decadent Berlin, and the Berlin where Nazis multiply and metastasize. The first pictures win out hearts and other parts before the last one comes into focus.

We experience these pictures through the eyes of Cliff (Donald Sutton), a writer visiting Weimar Germany, looking for inspiration. The young American gets more than he bargained for when he comes into the orbit of British expatriate and club singer Sally Bowles. With lighting that lands on the audience like a cutting remark and action that breaks the fourth walls at will, this interpretation of the book borrows ideas from expressionist theater, vintage German agitprop and probably Babylon Berlin, but with a considerably smaller budget.

As Bowles, Whitney Branan is more Lotte Lenya than Liza Minnelli. She lets her voice go ugly, and I mean it in the best way possible. She slings sound like a hammer or a razor. It's the perfect tool for a character who flourishes in the midst of disaster because she's more Mother Courage than meets the eye.

Though sometimes incomprehensible as he spits out too many words too fast in a thick German accent, Nathan McHenry's intentions are never unclear. As the emcee he welcomes the audience like a good horror host, and ushers them back and forth across Cabaret's intersecting storylines, on journey all the way to hell. It's an impressive, athletic performance, but it's Playhouse stalwart Kim Sanders who emerges from the chorus to deliver Cabaret's crushing blow. She leads the cast through "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," an infections, inspirational number that begins so sweetly, and ends with the earth shifting hard on its axis. From nowhere so many Nazis emerge. Only they don't really come from nowhere; they were there all along.


The film version of Cabaret achieves a special kind of clarity. Berlin's Nazis aren't hidden at the beginning, they're just pushed to the margins and not taken seriously. Then suddenly they're everywhere. They're everybody. It's a strong blueprint for negotiating any narrative vagaries in the stage musical's book.

What it lacks in this level of subtlety, Playhouse on the Square's production counters with the somnambulant urgency recently described by the Twitter parody/tribute account Werner Twertzog: "Dear America: You are waking up, as Germany once did, to the awareness that 1/3 of your people would kill another 1/3, while 1/3 watches."

I sat in a box seat far house left, and so many of this Cabaret's more intimate moments took place far stage right. That means there's a lot about this show I really can't discuss with any authority, because my view was so badly obscured. This won't be a problem for most audience members, but for me it was enough of an issue to cut the review short. What I saw was thoughtful and provocative. What I couldn't see at least sounded like a close match.

It's so easy to fall for Sally Bowles – to buy into her spiel about the short distance from cradle to tomb, and carpe diem, and all that. "Come to the Cabaret," she belts like a carnival barker, pitching all the attractions. Only Elsie, the former Chelsea flatmate Bowles valorizes in the musical's title song, didn't win a prize by dying blissfully ignorant. Nobody won anything by ignoring their prophets of doom, certainly not the people Elsie's happy corpse left behind in the soup.

I don't always know why we go to the theater anymore. I don't think it's to serve any of the old civic functions, but maybe it is sometimes. It's certainly not for any kind of meaningful moral instruction or else all those money-printing productions of A Christmas Carol would have fixed us up pretty good by now.

Escapism's high quality these days, relatively cheap,  and almost always at our fingertips. But if Hamlet's right and plays really are conscience catchers, many playgoers will see themselves inside the Kit Kat Club when the show's grimy, accusatory lights come up over audience. That's the kind of Cabaret this is. But if it doesn't move them to do more than renew their season subscriptions, we'd might as well start celebrating. Right this way, your table's waiting.  

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Steven McMahon Named Artistic Director Of Ballet Memphis

Posted By on Tue, May 7, 2019 at 6:44 PM

Steven McMahon and Dorothy Gunther Pugh at grand opening of new Ballet Memphis headquarters. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Steven McMahon and Dorothy Gunther Pugh at grand opening of new Ballet Memphis headquarters.
“I long ago recognized that I needed to groom the right person to guard what we have built and what we value at Ballet Memphis,” Ballet Memphis's founding CEO Dorothy Gunther Pugh was quoted as saying in a prepared statement about the dancer and choreographer who will succeed her as artistic director. The person in question is Ballet Memphis's 34-year-old Associate Artistic Director Steven McMahon.

“Steven has come up through this organization and grown as a dancer and dance-maker; he’s the best choice as well as the right choice," Pugh concluded.

McMahon, who has choreographed more than 30 works for Ballet Memphis including, favorites like The Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan, officially assumes his new position July 1st. Pugh will continue her work at Ballet Memphis as CEO.

Video: McMahon discussed choreographing a past production of Romeo & Juliet for Ballet Memphis:

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Tomorrow Belongs to Nazis — "Cabaret" Remains Stubbornly Relevant

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2019 at 10:56 AM

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"We are Americans, and the future belongs to us." — POTUS.
Inspired by Christopher Isherwood's story "Goodbye to Berlin" and the subsequent play I Am a Camera, the Kander & Ebb musical, Cabaret, shows three distinct snapshots of Germany during Hitler's rise to power. First, there's a sentimental Berlin, where a little old German landlady and a little old Jewish grocer might laugh and make loving, bawdy metaphors over a bowl of fruit. There's also a decadent, enticing Berlin, where transvestites and taxi dancers guzzle gin and dance in a sleepless celebration of flesh. And then there's the Berlin where Nazis multiply and metastasize like cancer cells. It's the last snapshot I want to focus on.

Where did all those Nazis come from? Hitler took inspiration from many places, but was a particular fan of American Industrialist Henry Ford, who acquired a weekly periodical called The Dearborn Independent, transforming it into a vehicle for his virulent brand of anti-semitism. Indeed, the ceaseless, almost century-long campaign against "liberalism" in media — a complaint whose ubiquity has made it conventional wisdom, undermining virtually all trust in American information workers — is essentially a politically refined twin of Ford's fear-mongering against, "the international Jew," who controls the news and entertainment industry.


Ford's anti-semitism wasn't unique for the time but, as the man who created America's automobile industry, he was uniquely credible and the power and influence he wielded was extraordinary. Before The Independent was shuttered amid lawsuits stemming from the paper's relentless defamation, it had become the second-largest circulation periodical in America. Ford's message about the threat of Jewish influence was carried forward by America's own Nazis, the German American Bund who, in spite of having been highly active and organized in the run up to WWII, have been virtually wiped from the public memory. The Bund protested for pro-Nazi media and their rally at Madison Square Garden filled the house. In short, while few images define how America sees itself like Jack Kirby's cartoon of Captain America punching Hitler in the face, the real story's more like a comic book plot than the big cultural myth. Our Nazis went underground, and stayed undefeated. They didn't have to reintegrate into the American fabric, because they were already part the American fabric. At some point it became impolite to make even the most appropriate Nazi comparisons, because the horror of the Holocaust was incomparable, a fact lending cover to the movement's provenance and evolution.

As a side note, the famous image of Captain America punching Hitler came out a year before America entered into WWII. Not only was America not at war with Germany when Kirby drew the image, 75 percent of the the US opposed war with the Nazis.

Germans were devastated by WWI. Crippled by debt and a deadlocked parliament, the country was ripe for a despot like Hitler. In much the same way economic anxieties in the U.S. have been channeled into racial tension, creating a permanent American underclass, Germany was looking for somebody to blame for its struggles and disgrace. Decadent Weimar culture made an easy target, and Henry Ford's international Jew made an easy scapegoat. While focusing on Berlin's Kit Kat Club, and those inside the orbit of British singer and bon vivant Sally Bowles, Cabaret seeks to answer what have long been regarded as unanswerable questions: How could it happen? And where did the monsters come from?


They didn't come from anywhere, of course. They were already there, waiting for representation. They were waiting for a leader to say out loud the kinds of things they were already whispering to their children. America always had Nazis — lots of them! They didn't come from anywhere, and they didn't vanish when conscription made certain views seditious. They just went back to being good folks, if a little more conservative than most. All they've ever needed to activate was a little representation.

I haven't seen Playhouse on the Square's Cabaret revival yet, but plan to be in the audience opening night. Broadway's book is different than Bob Fosse's nearly perfect film, and how the material is interpreted and contextualized matters. Thematically, it couldn't have arrived at a more appropriate time. Again.

Here's a video preview created by Playhouse on the Square. Have a look. 

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