What is not unusual about the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s production of the Tony Award-winning musical comedy “Avenue Q” is that it follows a motley group of New York twenty-somethings who face life’s challenges together, struggling to find jobs, dates, and their elusive purpose in life.
What is unusual about the irreverent farce, which opens May 3 for seven performances only, is that three actors share the stage with a group of raunchy, foulmouthed, politically-incorrect puppets, operated and voiced by other actors in full view of the audience. The show runs through May 12.
Any likeness to a long-running public television children’s show is unquestionably implied, but the content – adult themes, colorful language, racy humor, and a brief suggestion of puppet-to-puppet intimacy – confirms that “Avenue Q” is not intended for young audiences.
The musical follows the story of a bright-eyed college grad named Princeton (a puppet), who arrives in the city with big dreams and an empty bank account. He moves into a run-down apartment way out on Avenue Q, where he meets a host of odd neighbors (mostly puppets) who are struggling to find their way too.
There’s Kate Monster (his girl-next-door love interest), Lucy (a promiscuous woman), Rod (a closeted investment banker), Nicky (a slacker just out of college), Trekkie Monster (a lecherous grouch who surfs the internet all day), the Bad Idea Bears (who urge Princeton to make poor choices), Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman), and others. He soon discovers that, although the residents seem nice, it’s obvious that it’s not your average neighborhood.
With songs like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet Is for Porn,” the musical — created by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx with a book by Jeff Whitty — was an unusual fit for Broadway when it opened in 2003. However, “Avenue Q” went on to win three Tony Awards in 2004 for best musical, best book, and best original score.
It should be stressed, however, that this show is rated R and contains mature themes, mature language, and mature situations for mature audiences.
Under the direction of the CTC’s Scott Dunlap with music direction by Jennifer Arbogast Wilson, the cast features Jordan Bennett, Normand Caissie, Greer Caldwell, Annie Collins, Marie Dance, Brandy Johnson, Bryan Kelly, Joanna Lewis, Beth McClary-Wolford, Richard Nichols, Will Park, and Christian Smith. The stage managers are Jeremy Campbell and Angie Griffin, and Teralyn Wade is the assistant stage manager.
“Avenue Q” will be presented in a limited run of seven performances. Show dates are May 3-4 at 8 p.m., May 5 at 2:30 p.m., May 9 at 7 p.m., May 10-11 at 8 p.m., and May 12 at 2:30 p.m.
For tickets, call the CTC box office at (423) 267-8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com.
Defying his mother’s instructions, venturing into dangerous territory, one of the most endearing – and naughty – heroes of children’s literature hops from the page to the stage as the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s Youth Theatre presents Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” March 29 through April 7, 2019.
Under the direction of Youth Theatre director Scott Dunlap, 28 young actors bring the story to life in this faithful stage adaptation of Potter’s book, published in 1902 and one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.
The dramatization centers on the mischievous Peter Rabbit, whose disobedience leads to trouble. The story combines humor and adventure that will have young audiences hopping with delight while also delivering a moral lesson that youngsters can take to heart.
As the tale begins, Peter Rabbit, far more adventurous than his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, is following the advice of his tummy versus the advice of his mother. Everyone knows that you stay out of Mr. McGregor’s garden, but Peter and his cousin Benjamin Bunny (adopted by this adaptation from another Potter book) squeeze under the garden gate and venture into a world filled with excitement, adventure, and scrumptious vegetables.
Audiences will meet other fun characters such as Caw and Kem, the two silly crows who know that a picket fence could never stop a bird, and the easygoing Cat, just waiting around the garden for her own meal. And, of course, there’s Mr. McGregor, the mean, befuddled farmer, who is willing to go to great lengths to protect his garden.
Ultimately, the angry farmer chases the terrified young rabbits around the garden until they finally locate the gate and return home frightened but a little wiser.
With two casts performing on alternate days, Charlie Clevenger and Bec Fitzsimmons share the role of Peter Rabbit. The casts also include Jaimie Abbott, Riley Brown, Kailey Buttry, Audrey DeCredico, James Derrick, Lucas Gregg, Elise Hall, Cole Hayes, Tytus Hayes, Zachary Huseman, Claire James, Emily James, Emily Johnson, Paul Knotts, Hunter Landreth, Brady Lewis, Lilly Lewis, Megan McGarvey, Ella McGinness, Tilleigh Nazor-Comer, Bennett Russak, Jaelyn Sanders, Autumn Schulmeister, Zachary Schulmeister, Kamaya Sutton, and Lanie Wright. Ella Hogue and Olivia Kelly are the stage managers.
Public performances take place on March 29 and March 30 at 7 p.m. and March 30 and 31 and April 6 and 7 at 2:30 p.m. School performances are scheduled during the week of April 1. The show is appropriate for kindergartners and older.
Tickets are available at the CTC box office at (423) 267-8534 or online at TheatreCentre.com.
Posted on March 20, 2019
Women’s relationships and attire—and at times the interaction of the two—use the female wardrobe as a time capsule of a woman’s life in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s upcoming benefit performance of the comedy, “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” on Saturday, March 9, at 8 p.m.
An Off-Broadway hit by celebrated writers Nora and Delia Ephron, the one-night-only performance will bring to the stage five prominent members of the community. Appearing in the narrator role of Gingy, a wise woman who reminisces about what she wore at milestones in her life, is Alice Lupton Smith, a community leader and veteran of the CTC stage. Joining her are Lakweshia Ewing, Becki Jordan, Alison Lebovitz, and Kristina Montague.
The reader’s theatre play consists of 28 interwoven stories that seek to illuminate the female identity. Through a series of humorous and often poignant monologues, the actresses share their characters’ stories, exploring themes of relationships, oppression, loss of loved ones, divorce, sexuality (particularly relevant in the Me Too era), and the fullness of life through the metaphor of the characters’ love/hate relationship with clothes.
The actresses each play a variety of characters, transitioning between ages, accents, and attitudes. With monologues about first-date outfits, lucky underwear, prom dresses, buying bras, favorite boots, wedding dresses, miniskirts, the little black dress, high heels, the disorganized purse, and nightmare experiences in the dressing room, the recollections prompt the women’s memories about their mothers, boyfriends, husbands, ex-husbands, sisters, children, and grandchildren.
Among the stories, notable tales revolve around the influence of Madonna (“any woman under 40 who says she’s never dressed as Madonna is either lying or Amish”) and mothers’ taste in clothes (“I don’t understand, you could look so good if you tried”). Other stories include recollections about the dress purchased for the date with a guy who subsequently married someone else, the foibles of spandex bras that result in a look known as the monoboob, and the choice of adorning a newly reconstructed breast with a tattoo.
First produced in 2009, the play is the work of sisters Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally”) and Delia Ephron (“You’ve Got Mail,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”), based on the best-selling book by Ilene Beckerman. Nora Ephron wrote the introduction to Beckerman’s 1995 book, which she immediately thought had dramatic possibilities. Once she decided to adapt it into a play, she and her sister emailed 100 women for stories. The play has been produced frequently with celebrities in the roles.
The evening, a fundraiser for the theatre, will include wine and an elaborate spread of hors d’oeuvres and dessert bites catered by the Mountain City Club. The show is rated R for mature language and themes.
Tickets are $50 and are available at the Theatre Centre box office at (423) 267-8534 or online at TheatreCentre.com.
Posted February 26, 2019
Darth Vader is coming to Chattanooga. Part homage, part spoof of the original trilogy of films, Canadian actor Charles Ross brings his whirlwind solo creation “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy” to the Chattanooga Theatre Centre stage for two performances, Saturday and Sunday, March 2-3.
Ross single-handedly plays all the characters with spot-on voice impressions, sings the iconic music, flies the ships, fights the battles, and condenses the plots of almost 12 hours of the cinematic legend that is “Star Wars” episodes IV, V and VI into one hilarious 75-minute production. No costumes. No props. Not even a light saber.
Both writer and actor, Ross started regularly performing “One-Man Star Wars” in 2002. Officially endorsed by Lucasfilm and “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, Ross has performed his show for over a million fans in 11 countries, from Off-Broadway to London’s West End and from Dubai to the Sydney Opera House.
Ross’s stopover in Chattanooga is a fundraiser for the Theatre Centre. Saturday night’s performance also includes a Star Wars Cantina, food, drinks, light sabers, and even “Star Wars” characters milling about. The characters will also be on hand for Sunday’s matinee performance.
Tickets to Saturday’s benefit performance, which begins at 8 p.m., are $50 for adults and $30 for kids 13 and under. Tickets to Sunday’s performance, which begins at 2:30 p.m., are $25 for adults and $15 for kids 13 and under.
According to Ross, the show is suitable for “ages 6 to Yoda.”
For tickets, call the CTC box office at (423) 267-8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com.
Posted February 18, 2019
Culled from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files and the public record, “The Exonerated” tells the true stories of six wrongfully convicted survivors of death row, ultimately freed after serving varying years in prison, in their own words. It is performed as an anthology by 17 local actors seated behind music stands.
This prize-winning play moves between first-person monologues and scenes set in courtrooms and prisons, with the six interwoven stories painting a picture of an American criminal justice system gone horribly wrong—and of six brave souls who persevered to survive it.
We meet Kerry, a sensitive Texan brutalized on death row for 22 years before being exonerated by DNA evidence. We meet Gary, a Midwestern organic farmer condemned for the murder of his own parents and later exonerated when two motorcycle-gang members confess. We meet Robert, an African-American horse groomer who spent seven years on death row for the murder of a white woman before evidence emerges that the victim was found clutching hair from a Caucasian attacker.
We hear from David, a shy man with aspirations to the ministry, bullied into confessing at 18 to a robbery and murder he had nothing to do with, and from Sunny, a bright-spirited hippie who, along with her husband, spent 17 years in prison for the murder of two police officers, while another man confessed and was ignored by the courts. Finally, we meet Delbert, a black poet who serves as the play’s center, convicted of rape and murder in the Deep South of the 1970s and later freed when evidence surfaced showing that he was not even in the town when the crime occurred.
All their stories were compiled and edited by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen into a play that is both a riveting work of theatre and an exploration of the dark side of the criminal justice system.
The play originated as Blank and Jensen spent the summer of 2000 interviewing 40 former death row inmates who had been freed by the state after having served as much as 22 years in prison. They adapted the stories of six people into a script, and in 2002, the play premiered Off-Broadway. For their efforts, Blank and Jenson received the Champion of Justice Award from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. It also won prestigious Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards, among others.
Under the direction of Todd Olson, the play features D’Andre Anderson (Robert), Dylan Kussman (Kerry), Ricardo Morris (David), Jason Russell (Gary), LaFrederick Thirkill (Delbert) and Julie Van Valkenburg (Sunny) in the roles of the falsely accused. The cast also includes Jerry Bowman, Courtenay Cholovich, Jim Eernisse, Judy Gallagher, Cary Garrett, Jeromie Gentry, Ray Laliberte, John McCune, Charlotte Olson, Christian Smith and Ruth Spellman.
The production is a benefit for the Chattanooga Theatre Centre and the Universal Unitarian Church of Chattanooga.
The performance begins at 3 p.m. Admission is $20. For tickets, call the Theatre Centre box office at (423) 267-8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com.
Posted February 15, 2019
A Disney musical about a stern British nanny who’s “practically perfect in every way” and a powerhouse musical about a 1960’s girl group with a Motown-inspired score are among the highlights as the Chattanooga Theatre Centre announced its 2019-2020 season Monday, Feb. 4, at a gathering of volunteers.
From Disney to Dr. Seuss, from August Wilson to Neil Simon, musical crowd-pleasers will be complemented by classic comedies, suspenseful mysteries, stirring dramas, and endearing youth shows as the community theatre, founded in 1923, enters its 96th season in September.
Here’s a look at the season:
Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” (Sept. 20-Oct. 13, 2019): Inspired by the twisted genius of Roald Dahl, the musical is a captivating masterpiece about the power of imagination and the inspiring story of a girl who dreams of a better life. “Matilda” has won 47 international awards and continues to thrill sold-out audiences of all ages around the world. (Directed by Katherine Tanner, musical direction by Michael Huseman and choreography by Andrew Parker) Rated G.
Disney’s “Lion King, Jr.” (Oct. 19-27, 2019): Disney’s “The Lion King” has captivated the imagination of audiences around the world. The African savannah comes to life with Simba, Rafiki and an unforgettable cast of characters as they journey from Pride Rock to the jungle and back again in this inspiring, coming-of-age tale. (Directed by Scott Dunlap, musical direction by Neshawn Calloway and choreography by Marie Dance) Rated G.
Disney’s “Mary Poppins” (Nov. 22-Dec. 22): One of the most popular Disney movies of all time is capturing hearts in a whole new way: as a “practically perfect” musical for the stage. Based on the books by P.L. Travers and the classic Disney film, “Mary Poppins” has delighted audiences on Broadway and in London, receiving nominations for nine Olivier and seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. (Directed by Scott Dunlap, musical direction by Michael Huseman and choreography by Lindsay Fussell) Rated G.
James Baldwin’s “Amen Corner” (Dec. 6-22): After giving a fiery Sunday morning sermon, Margaret is confronted by the unexpected arrival of her long-estranged husband who collapses from illness shortly thereafter. Their son, along with elders of the congregation, struggle with the moral questions of the moment, and what follows on that Christmas is an unforgettable journey of atonement and self-discovery. (Directed by Ricardo Morris) Rated PG for mature themes.
August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” (Jan. 24-Feb. 9, 2020): The CTC has committed to produce an August Wilson play, all of which focus on the African American experience in each decade of the 20th Century, for the next 10 years. “Gem of the Ocean” is set in 1904 in Pittsburgh as tension boils and as its population grows impatient with the poor working and housing conditions. “Gem of the Ocean” is about people struggling to find the meaning of freedom in an environment eager to keep the shackles locked. (Directed by Sadiqua Iman) Rated PG-13 for mature language and themes.
C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (Feb. 21-29, 2020): This adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ timeless story takes audiences on an adventure to see the magic and mystery of Aslan, the great lion, his struggle with the White Witch, and the adventures of four children who inadvertently wander from an old wardrobe. The intense action features chases, duels and escapes as the witch is determined to keep Narnia in her possession and to end the reign of Aslan. This story of love, faith, courage and giving, with its triumph of good over evil, is a true celebration of life. (Directed by Scott Dunlap) Rated G.
Agatha Christie’s “The Hollow” (March 13-April 5, 2020): An unhappy game of romantic follow-the-leader explodes into murder one weekend at The Hollow, home of Sir Henry and Lucy Angkatell, arguably Christie’s finest comic grande dame. Dr. Cristow, the Harley Street playboy, is at the center of the trouble when, assembled in one place, we find his dull but devoted wife Gerda, his mistress and prominent sculptor Henrietta, and his former lover and Hollywood film star Veronica. As the weekend progresses, so does the list of potential suspects when Cristow is shot dead. (Director to be announced) Rated PG for brief violence.
Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” (March 27-April 12, 2020): Inspired by playwright Neil Simon’s youthful experience as a staff writer on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” with all the attendant comic drama as the harried writing staff frantically scrambles to top each other with gags while competing for the attention of star madman Max Prince. (Directed by Todd Olson) Rated R for adult language.
Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” (May 9-17, 2020): From the moment his tall, red-and-white-striped hat appears around the door, Sally and her brother know that the Cat in the Hat is the funniest, most mischievous cat that they have ever met. With the trickiest of tricks and the craziest of ideas, he is certainly loads of fun. He turns a rainy afternoon into an amazing adventure, but what will mum find when she gets home? (Directed by Scott Dunlap) Rated G.
“Dreamgirls” (May 29-June 21, 2020): This powerhouse musical was a Tony and Grammy Award-winning hit on Broadway that became an Academy Award-winning film sensation. “Dreamgirls” celebrates the advent of R&B in the 1960’s with a Motown-inspired score and a moving look behind-the-scenes of the entertainment business. Experience all the onstage joy and backstage drama as an up-and-coming girl group learns hard lessons about love, trust and what it takes to get to the top. (Directed by Ricardo Morris) Rated PG-13 for adult language and situations.
“Mamma Mia” (July 17-Aug. 9, 2020): People around the globe have fallen in love with the characters, story and music that make “Mamma Mia” the ultimate feel-good show. Set on a Greek island paradise on the eve of a wedding, a daughter seeks to discover the identity of her father and brings three men from her mother’s past back to the island they visited 20 years ago. The storytelling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs propels this enchanting tale of love, laughter, and friendship, with non-stop laughs and infectious dance numbers. (Director to be announced. Musical direction by Michael Huseman.) Rated PG for adult themes.
The Theatre Centre’s 2019-2020 line-up will be offered to season subscribers as a family-friendly “Family Series” and a “Next Wave Series” of works suited to adult audiences. To subscribe to the season at an early-bird discounted rate of 15 percent, call the box office at 423.267.8534.
Posted February 4, 2019
The works of playwright August Wilson chronicle the African American experience like no other has before or since, but in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre production of “Fences,” opening Feb. 15 and running through March 10, audiences will see that his themes are universal.
Hope and disappointment. Love and resentment. Loyalty and betrayal. They are themes not just of the black experience but of the human experience.
As one character in Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece says, “Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”
That symbolic fence alludes not just literally to the barrier middle-aged Troy Maxson procrastinates about building in the small backyard of his modest home, but to the life obstacles he has never managed to surmount in the pre-Civil Rights age.
“Fences” tells the story of the boisterous Troy, a former star of the Negro baseball leagues who now works as a garbage man in 1950’s Pittsburgh, holding court and lecturing about life from the chair in his backyard. Due to his race, Troy has been denied his shot at the big league, so when his teenage son Cory wants his own chance to excel in athletics, Troy’s bitterness threatens to tear them apart.
Like that fence, Troy draws a line between himself and those closest to him. That includes Cory, who he brutally projects his own disappointment upon by discouraging his high-school football career and potential for college recruitment; struggling musician Lyons, Troy’s mild-mannered son by a previous marriage; brother Gabriel, whose wartime injuries have rendered him mentally impaired; and best friend Bono, his sidekick since younger days. Above all, Troy shares his life with his loving, stoic, and tireless wife Rose, whose steadfast devotion to him is tested when he has an affair—and a child—with another woman.
The Theatre Centre’s production of “Fences” marks the first installment of its pledge to produce Wilson’s entire canon of 10 plays portraying the African American experience through the 20th century. It’s known as the American Century Cycle, and the CTC will produce one work a year through 2028. Next year’s season will bring Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” set in 1904.
Directed by Ricardo C. Morris, who directed this work 20 years ago on the CTC stage, the all-volunteer cast includes Carlos Davis (Bono), E’tienne Easley (Rose), William Elston (Lyons), Caleb Golson (Cory), Nyla Jacks (Raynell), Mateen Muhammad El (Troy), and Jeffrey Pinkerton (Gabriel). The stage manager is Rodney Strong.
The creative team includes guest artists Julius Johnson, who contributes lighting design, and Tinita Coulter, who provides costume design. Scenic design is by CTC technical director N. Eric Knauss.
Performances take place on Fridays and Saturdays, February 15, 16, 22 and 23 and March 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 8 p.m., Sundays, Feb. 17 and 24 and March 3 and 10, at 2:30 p.m., and Thursdays, February 21 and 28 and March 7, at 7 p.m.
The production will be presented in the Mildred M. Montague Circle Theatre and contains adult language and mature themes.
Tickets are available at the CTC box office at (423) 267-8534 or online at TheatreCentre.com.
(Photo by Cansler Photography)
Posted January 30, 2019
With its catchy Caribbean-flavored musical score and vibrant costumes splashing the stage with color, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s upcoming Youth Theatre production of “Once on This Island, Jr.” may just conger up orange sunsets and ocean breezes when this enchanting Calypso folktale opens Saturday, February 2.
Adapted for young audiences from the celebrated Broadway musical, with music and lyrics by the legendary writing team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the CTC production of “Once on This Island, Jr.” features a multicultural cast of 30 young people under the direction of Youth Theatre Director R. Scott Dunlap. The show runs through Sunday, February 10.
Through almost non-stop song and dance, this full-hearted musical tells the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who rescues and falls in love with Daniel, a wealthy boy from the French-descended dwellers on the other side of her island. When Daniel is returned to his people, the fantastical gods who rule the island guide Ti Moune on a quest that will test the strength of her love against the powerful forces of prejudice, hatred, and even death.
Like the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” on which it is based, the young lovers live in two different worlds. The tale is as timely as ever though, as it follows Ti Moune, who is orphaned and alone following a massive storm. When she falls in love with Daniel, “Once on This Island, Jr.” brings timeless themes of race and class into the story.
Ultimately, “Once on This Island, Jr.” is a joyful hymn to community and storytelling that renders even the tragedy of death as a stirring transformation that gives back to the living.
In the Theatre Centre production, creative movement will capture the audiences’ imaginations, calling upon performers to portray trees, wild animals, and even a fierce rainstorm. Guest musical director Neshawn Bynum Calloway and guest choreographer Marie Dance contribute their talents to this rousing show.
Youth Theatre newcomer MaKenzie Ballard appears in the leading role of Ti Moune. Also featured are Kevin Bennett, Hannah Carter, Zoe Chatman, Mason Chattin-Carter, Vivika Cheemakoti, Ava Culpepper, J.A. Heard, Levi Jones, Tessa Kelly, Ian Parten, Genna Rayborn, Jaelyn Sanders, and Karielle Sutton. The ensemble includes Macy Barry, Melayna Buttry, Hayley Lewis, Annabelle Major, Taylor Mitchell, Christiana Russell, Eben Shriner, Emma Tuttle, and Molly Watts, and the children’s ensemble is comprised of Finley Burnette, William Hall, Paul Knotts, Alex Lloyd, Izzi Mathew, Acadia Phillips, and Larkin Smith. The stage manager is Charlie Clevenger.
Public performances take place on February 2, 3, 9 and 10 at 2:30 p.m. School performances are scheduled during the week of February 4. The show is appropriate for 3rd grade and up.
Tickets are available at the CTC box office at (423) 267-8534 or online at TheatreCentre.com.
(Photo by Taryn Bracher)
Posted January 22, 2019
In conjunction with our upcoming production of August Wilson’s FENCES, Pedro E. Alvarado, Education Director of the National August Wilson Society, will give a free community lecture titled “August Wilson and His American Century Cycle” on Sunday, February 10, at 4 p.m. at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.
As one of a growing number of theatres committing to produce all of his works, the Theatre Centre is embarking on Wilson’s “American Century Cycle” of 10 plays with its production of his towering masterpiece FENCES. Wilson is considered the preeminent playwright depicting the African American condition.
Alvarado’s lecture will focus on Wilson the man, the American Century Cycle, and FENCES. The event will also feature Ricardo Morris, director of our production of FENCES, as well as some cast members.
Alvarado is a doctoral student in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Georgia. His primary area of research is the canon of August Wilson. He also earned a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Degree in Theatre Performance at Georgia State University and an M.A. in Religious Studies. His recent essay on Wilson was published in The Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance.
In addition to his academic achievements, Alvarado has won the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival New Play Project Directing Award.
Admission to the lecture is free.
FENCES opens February 15 and runs through March 3. For tickets, call the box office at 423.267.8534 or visit TheatreCentre.com.
Posted January 16, 2019
The Chattanooga Theatre Centre shares the warmth of the season in “A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration,” a dramatic blend of history and traditional song in which Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel shows that the best of human nature comes out during Christmas. Set in 1864 with the nation at war, the still heartwarming play comes to the Mildred M. Montague Circle Theatre stage Dec. 14-30.
Set on a cold Christmas Eve, the play’s series of interlocking stories weaves a tapestry of both fictional and historical characters, such as President and Mrs. Lincoln, Generals Lee and Grant, John Wilkes Booth and Walt Whitman—together with holiday music, hymns, and spirituals of the period—to tell a story of compassion, reconciliation, and hope through intimate moments and larger events.
As the story opens, it seems like all Americans prepare for the holiday as best they can—Union and Confederate soldiers, slaves and freemen, as well as the White House inhabitants. It’s a chilly Christmas Eve in Washington, D.C., but the chill derives not only from the frigid temperatures. President Lincoln has recently won re-election, and preparations are under way for his second inauguration. But the country is still divided by war, and troops on both sides are hunkered down for a cold night with little hope of peace.
The story continues with Mary Todd Lincoln and her companion, freewoman Elizabeth Keckley, attempting to secure a Christmas tree, a new fashion imported from Germany. But there are no trees to be found; they have all been cut down for fires to warm the troops. On one side of the Potomac, the president defies his security and rides alone on the streets of D.C. On the other side, an escaped slave hurries her daughter toward freedom. Beyond the city, Robert E. Lee and his increasingly disarrayed Confederate troops and Ulysses S. Grant and his marginally better supplied Union soldiers face hardship on the cold winter night.
But when the ensemble’s voices join together in song, there arises from these stories set during one of the nation’s darkest hours a deep sense of wonder at the survival of faith and humanity even in hearts ravaged by loss.
Under the helm of director Todd Olson with guest musical direction by LaFrederick Thirkill, who also appears in the show, the cast of CTC veterans and newcomers also includes Gabriel Bailey, Chris Barr, Becky Byrns, Katie Campassi, Nicole Coleman, James Frost, Brandy Johnson, John McCune, Alexis Newson, John Nichols, Lee Preston, Kimberly Reynolds, Christian Smith, Allie Stafford, and Cora Grace Williams.
Friday and Saturday night performances on Dec. 14-15, 21-22 and 28-29 begin at 8 p.m. Thursday evening shows on Dec. 16, 23 and 30 start at 7 p.m. Saturday matinees on Dec. 15, 22 and 29 and Sunday matinees on Dec. 16, 23 and 30 begin at 2:30 p.m.
For tickets, visit the Theatre Centre box office at 400 River Street next to Coolidge Park, call the box office at (423) 267-8534, or purchase online at TheatreCentre.com.
Posted November 26, 2018
From a sad, droopy Christmas tree to a dancing dog atop a piano, there are timeless images in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that make the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s upcoming stage adaptation a faithful reflection of the classic animated TV special. The stage show, a production of the CTC’s Youth Theatre, opens December 8 and runs through December 16.
Under the direction of Chuck Tuttle, the Theatre Centre’s director of education and outreach, 22 young actors bring the story to life through familiar scenes and music. Through the course of the show, Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang discover the true meaning of Christmas.
Based on the characters created by Charles M. Schulz and the TV special that first aired in 1965, the stage version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” premiered in 2013 and includes Vince Guaraldi’s well-known jazz music from the TV show.
As the familiar story goes, Charlie Brown is feeling glum despite the arrival of the cheerful holiday season. When he complains about the overwhelming materialism he sees, Lucy suggests that he direct the school Christmas pageant. Charlie Brown accepts, but his best efforts are ignored and mocked by his peers.
When an attempt to restore the proper holiday spirit with a forlorn little Christmas tree fails, Charlie Brown, at his wit’s end, loudly asks if anybody knows what Christmas is all about. As Linus tells him about the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown cheers up, and the Peanuts gang unites to celebrate the holiday season.
With two casts performing on alternate days, Mason Brown and Jack Rogers share the role of Charlie Brown. The casts also include Isa Baez, Nevaeh Bentley, Alex Champion, Charlie Clevenger, James Cook, Aiden DiChiacchio, Bec Fitzsimmons, Hunter Gordy, Lauren Hays, Lilly Lewis, Kaleigh Loden, Lainey Maddox, Violet McClendon, Autumn Schulmeister, Zachary Schulmeister, Emma Stidham, Zella Stockman, Benjamin Suhrbrier, Will Tutor, and Kaitlin Young. Cassie Gallups is the stage manager.
Public performances take place on December 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 2:30 p.m. School performances are scheduled during the week of December 10. The show is appropriate for 1st grade and up.
The Theatre Centre is also marking the holiday season with a production for audiences of all ages of Paula Vogel’s “A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration,” running December 14-30.
Tickets for both shows are available at the CTC box office at (423) 267-8534 or online at TheatreCentre.com.
(Photo by Taryn Bracher)