Studio Tenn’s Dazzling Dolly

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Great things are worth waiting for, and such is the case with Studio Tenn’s new season. It’s been a whole year since Nashville’s newest professional theater company made its debut with its incredible production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.

I remember my excitement when seeing Our Town last October and have been eagerly waiting since for more. I was thrilled when Studio Tenn announced its 2010 season, which opened this past weekend with an outstanding production of the beloved musical, Hello, Dolly!

What’s so exciting about Studio Tenn is the high caliber of equity-level talent it boasts, comprising a mix of local actors and out-of-towners who have enjoyed success on Broadway. Artistic Director Matt Logan and Managing Director Jake Speck — both hometown fellows — also have some impressive Broadway credentials, and it’s grand that they’ve returned to Nashville to build Studio Tenn for our community.

Logan pulls double duty with Hello, Dolly! as director and designer, succeeding in brilliant fashion on both counts. Logan’s seamless direction is evident as his extremely talented cast flawlessly delivers every line and every note, offering the audience a bold, robust production that proves to be the best thing on a Nashville stage in a long time.

The leading role of meddling matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi is one that delightful Nan Gurley was destined to perform. Gurley has a true knack for becoming the character she plays on stage in any role, and her performance as Levi is phenomenal. Gurley brings every ounce of charisma, charm, cunning, vivaciousness, wit and humor to her role in succinct manner without ever missing a beat, and her vocal prowess is dynamic. In this role, Gurley leaves no doubt that she’s an amazing treasure to our local theater community.

Broadway-blessed Chuck Wagner, who is a Nashville native, also brings much deftness to his character, Horace Vandergelder. Wagner breathes a dapper air into his role, and does an excellent job bringing the grumpy Yonkers shop owner to life.

Larry Cox Jr. (Cornelius Hackl) and Michael Mindlin (Barnaby Tucker; Mindlin also possesses Broadway credits) both play their young shopkeeper roles with aplomb, offering a hefty dose of energy and humor to the stage as their characters quest for adventure in a life outside of Yonkers.

Other notable performances come from Carrie Tillis (Irene Molloy) who gives a passionate delivery of her solo number, “Ribbons Down My Back” as well as Bonnie Keen (Ernestina), Ashley Anderson McCarthy (Minnie Fay; McCarthy also serves as the show’s choreographer), Maggie McDowell (Ermengarde) and Derek Whittaker (Rudolph Reisenweber). The ensemble players are tight and exuberant, bringing much vigor to the show.

Nathan Burbank’s musical direction of Jerry Herman’s lovely score is tremendous, especially noted in the larger-than-life, joyous title song in Act II. Each cast member shows great strength vocally, giving the production a deep, rich quality worthy of a Broadway stage.

This production of Hello, Dolly! is evidence of what a great theater experience can and should be. No doubt, Studio Tenn’s existence in Nashville will raise the bar of excellence across town, and that’s a good thing!

I’m just glad I won’t have to wait another year for the next Studio Tenn production. Coming up next is A Christmas Carol (Dec. 11 – 19) and The Glass Menagerie (Feb. 17 – 27). Mark your calendars and plan to take your kids to see what an absolutely fabulous theater outing is all about.

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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