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Footlight Parade

A season of swell theater awaits

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Say you buy a movie ticket, go into the theater, and take a seat just as the movie starts. Suddenly, a plane crashes through the roof of the theater. Beams may fall, the screen may tear, an avalanche of butter-flavored liquid coating may spill into the street. No matter what happens, though, nothing will affect the outcome of the film threading through the projector. Whether the screen collapses or not, the image projected upon it will remain unchanged, regardless of the surrounding chaos.

As any actor who ever faced a stuck door or a missed sound cue can tell you, that’s not true in live theater. If an actor steps on a single marble, an entire set could come crashing down upon the cast and the audience, completely altering the play’s outcome. My favorite story concerns the production of a high-school play in Murfreesboro, where an actor stood center stage delivering a tongue-lashing to another character. Without warning, the supports on a heavy backdrop gave way, and a wall suddenly collapsed with an enormous crash, smashing furniture and scattering props. Not missing a beat, the actor turned to his shaken fellow player. “You see,” he shouted, triggering an ovation from the audience, “your whole world is falling around you!”

In a nutshell, that is the threat, and the thrill, of live theater—the knowledge that you are seeing something at that moment that can never be duplicated again. The greatest actor cannot recreate exactly the same performance two nights in a row. (The greatest actor wouldn’t want to.) What you take home from the theater are nuances, gestures, looks, and moments that belong to your audience alone. Live theater rewards second viewings in ways that movies cannot.

So if you’re up to the risk—the chance that you’ll either see a production so glorious it changes your life, a shambles so total you’ll never forget it, or merely a pleasant evening in a darkened room with live performers—the following list is for you, dear adventurer. It’s a brief, admittedly incomplete guide to some of the selections playing on local stages this fall, from large-scale extravaganzas bound for New York to shoestring productions mounted with sweat, spit, and love.

The list has been assembled alphabetically by theater groups. If you know the name of your favorite theater company, simply scan the listings. If you find something at one that looks good, however, we can assure you you’ll find something you’ll enjoy just as much at another.

The curtains, please:

Artist’s Cooperative Theatre I Before the new Daniel Day-Lewis-Winona Ryder version of The Crucible opens in theaters, audiences can view Arthur Miller’s searing drama of the Salem witch trials in a new ACT I presentation Sept. 20-Oct. 6. The production will be mounted on the Darkhorse Theater stage at 4610 Charlotte Ave. ACT I’s second production of the fall will be Light Up the Sky, Moss Hart’s loving tribute to the aspirations and artistic temperaments of a theater company. It too will be staged at the Darkhorse, Nov. 1-17. For reservations and additional information, call 297-7113.

Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre Only a few weeks ago, the Barn closed one of the most ambitious productions in its 30-year history, The Will Rogers Follies, which sent rockets, chorines, and the like streaking across the multileveled stage. For its follow-up, the Barn’s Mainstage Theatre currently presents the bedroom farce Not With My Daughter, starring John Olive, Eric Tichenor, Jennifer Noel, Dara Modglin, Adam Burnett, and Jennifer Jewel, through Sept. 14. The theater concludes its 1996 season with Richard Baer’s romantic comedy Mixed Emotions (Sept. 17-Oct. 19), the Neil Simon-Carolyn Leigh-Cy Coleman musical Little Me (Oct. 22-Nov. 23), and the mistaken-identity farce Playing Doctor (Nov. 26-Dec. 31).

Currently, the Barn’s smaller Backstage Theatre presents the murder mystery Ded Herring, in which the intrepid Lieutenant Samuels must sort out an elaborate plot involving a husband, a wife, and a gigolo, all or none of whom may be sleeping with the fishes. Phil Perry, Lydia Bushfield, Jeremy Childs, and Bobby Wyckoff play assorted victims. It continues through Oct. 19. On Nov. 5, the Backstage Theatre opens Take a Number, Darling, which the Barn promises will “send out the year with aching sides and tears of laughter.” For reservations, call 646-9977.

Circle Players Circle’s 47th season opens this weekend with The Secret Garden, the Tony-winning musical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel. In the new adaptation by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, an 11-year-old orphan, Mary Lennox (played by Bailey Driver), is sent to live with her reclusive Uncle Archibald (Shawn McCormick) at a mysterious British estate that houses many strange and wondrous secrets. The large cast includes Evan Broder, Matt Baugher, Sarah Valley, Brandon Conger, Mark Himes, Amy Jarman, Vanessa Jackson, Vickie Wonders Foltz, and Elizabeth Bell; the director is Elizabeth Huling, who recently performed in the Nashville Opera’s production of The Magic Flute. The show opens Friday and continues every weekend through Sept. 29.

The season continues with Paul Osborn’s On Borrowed Time, the whimsical tale of a boy and his grandfather who trap the messenger of Death in an apple tree. The story was previously filmed in 1939 with Lionel Barrymore and Cedric Hardwicke; Krys Lynam will direct the Circle production, which runs Oct. 18 through Nov. 10. Circle closes 1996 with a seasonal favorite, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Cinderella, under the direction of Sylvia Boyd. It opens just in time for Christmas on Nov. 22 and lasts through Dec. 15. For tickets and show times, call 254-0113.

Darkhorse Theater The Darkhorse’s umbrella shelters several independent, not-for-profit local theater companies, including the Nashville Dance Project, the aforementioned ACT I, and Mockingbird Public Theatre. Two new companies join the roster this fall. The Theater of Dreams intends to produce “dream projects,” the first of which will be Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park, running Nov. 22-Dec. 1. The other new resident is the Acme Moving Group, a new modern dance company, which performs its debut concert Dec. 6 and 7. For information on these and other shows, call 297-7113 or check out the Darkhorse’s web site at http://edge.edge.net/~pkurland/dhedge.html.

Mockingbird Public Theatre Fresh from its collaboration with the Nashville Shakespeare Festival on Julius Caesar—which was expected to draw some 15,000 viewers to Centennial Park by the end of its run last weekend—the Mockingbird is currently preparing Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest for a two-week run in October. David Alford, who directed Julius Caesar, essays the role of Algernon; Rene Copeland is the director. The play runs Oct. 11-26, and reservations can be made by calling 297-7113.

Perhaps the Mockingbird’s biggest attraction, however, is its reprise of A Southern Christmas Sampler, an original production that drew sellout crowds and excellent notices when produced last winter. A collection of Christmas songs and seasonal writings by Southern authors, the play returns Dec. 4-23 to the dining hall at Scarritt-Bennett Center, where you can enjoy the play with either a dessert buffet (for $20) or a four-course meal (for $35). Since the house is limited to 40 people, it would not be unwise to make reservations ahead of time by calling 340-7500.

Nashville Children’s Theatre Bowing to perennial public confusion, this company has changed its name from the Nashville Academy Theatre back to the Nashville Children’s Theatre—which is what everyone always called it anyway. The word “children” in the name, however, should not obscure the fact that the company regularly performs first-rate—and occasionally risky—work.

On Sept. 16, the theater opens a new version of Goldilocks & the 3 Bears, which entwines the ageless fairy tale with backstage intrigue during the actual production. Suitable for preschool audiences and up, the play’s run continues through Oct. 4, with Saturday and Sunday shows and sign-interpreted performances the weekend of Sept. 21-23.

Switching from grizzlies to Greeks, the theater performs an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey Oct. 14-25. Watch out for that scary Cyclops. The final production of 1996 will be a musical version of Pinocchio performed with marionettes. For information about the schedule, call 254-9103.

Tennessee Repertory Theatre The jewel of The Rep’s fall season is the three-week preview of Dream, a Broadway-bound musical based on the songs of lyricist/composer Johnny Mercer. Mercer’s collaborations with Duke Ellington, Henry Mancini, Jerome Kern, and Hoagy Carmichael produced a canon of endearing, enduring popular music, including “Moon River,” “Hooray for Hollywood,” “One for My Baby,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “That Old Black Magic”—allow us to catch our breath, please—“Days of Wine and Roses,” “Laura,” and “Autumn Leaves.”

Add a dream cast of cabaret luminaries—Lesley Ann Warren, Margaret Whiting, and jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli—and you have the makings of a magical evening. The show opens this weekend and runs through Sept. 22; we suggest you purchase your tickets immediately, if not sooner.

“Satin Doll” gives way to Shakespeare when the Rep brews up The Tempest Oct. 23 through Nov. 10 under the direction of Don Jones. For the Christmas holidays, the Rep offers Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! Dec. 4-22, allowing Nashville audiences to hear once more such standards as “Food, Glorious Food” and “Consider Yourself.” For ticket information, call 782-6560.

Theatre Horizons Still settling into its new Church Street Centre location—yes, there’s plenty of parking—Dennis Ewing’s scrappy little theater company continues to perform recent off-Broadway plays by notable playwrights. The company currently performs Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium, a camp extravaganza by Vampire Lesbians of Sodom author Charles Busch, in which a humble slut from the gutter (played by Carla Coble) becomes empress of a decidedly perverse kingdom. The cast includes Matt Cook, Kathleen Cosgrove, Randy Dale, Wes Knox, Michael Lasser, Meigie Mabry, and Dana Moore, all under the direction of Artie Morgan. The play has been performing to SRO crowds on Friday and Saturday nights; ticket demand has forced Theatre Horizons to extend the show’s run through Sept. 14.

Theatre Horizons’ next production will be Later Life, a 1993 play by A.R. Gurney Jr. (Love Letters), in which a man and woman at a cocktail party try to engage in conversation, despite the persistent interruption of guests. Lane Wright directs. The play has about a dozen characters; the four actors in the cast are Ewing, Linda Speir, Meredith Garmon, and Kathleen Cosgrove. (You do the math.) It runs Sept. 13 through Oct. 5. The company closes the year with Nicky Silver’s comedy Raised in Captivity, which lasts Oct. 25 through Nov. 16. Capture your reservations by calling 244-7115.

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