A Songwriters Guide to Nashville — IBFF Nashville , Jaz Dorsey — AAPEX

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Songwriters Guide to Nashville

I moved to Nashville because I am a songwriter.

Just before moving here I had had a musical produced at The Lambs Theatre in NYC - NELLIE, book by Bernice Lee, Music by Jaz Dorsey, Lyrics by Dorsey and Lee.

That was 1999.

I think NELLIE was my 10th musical to receive an NYC production. The first had been in 1988, when The Lewis Carroll Society of North America had invited me to present my musical ALICE IN AMERICA as part of their annual meeting in New York.

Somewhere in between those years I had enjoyed productions of CAFE ESCARGOT, WAITING FOR THE E TRAIN, BABBLHAGGLE AND VAN DER BICH, DON'T ASK/DON'T TELL, and had served as in house composer/lyricist for BIGGS ROSATI PRODUCTIONS on their educational productions EL BARBERO DE SEVILLA, MANANAS DE ABRIL Y MAYO, LE PETIT PRINCE and DER TALISMAN. And Bonnie Comley, who since went on to Broadway producer status, used ALICE IN AMERICA for her graduate thesis in children's film.

I had also served as assistant to the producers on over 75 national tours over a 7 year period.

And another 7 wonderful years as pianist for NYC Cabaret legend TOPAZ.

Then came the tornado and I wasn't in Oz any more, but I was some place equally fascinating - Nashville, Imperial City of the American Songwriter.

It seemed like the ideal place to work on new musicals. And so the new adventure began.

Now I've been in Nashville 12 years and those 12 years have been spent digging for hidden treasure - the new musicals of Nashville.

Keep in mind that we are in the early years not only of a new century but of a new millenium - historians love these "transitional" periods and didn't we have fun crossing over those time borders. So let's make some history. Theatre history.

The new musicals coming out of Nashville really rock.

Not that they're "rock musicals" - or "country musicals" either. Randi Michael Blocks GUESS WHO'S COMING TO SEDER is a witty urban expose in show tunes. Marcus Hummon writes operas. Ted Swindley's BECOMING KINKY works around Kinky Friedman's greatest hits just as his renowned ALWAYS.....PATSY CLINE worked around Patsy's.

Sue Fabisch's MOTHERHOOD THE MUSICAL is on a roll; Mike Mcfaden is about to launch CITY OF LIGHT following up on his wonderful AIN'T WE GOT FUN which went from The Darkhorse to NYC a few years back, via a few great readings at the now defunct CHUTE. And we're about to get another look at Jesse Goldberg;s RUFF LIFE. It's about dogs.

This past Monday's reading of UMBRELLA by Steve Leslie and Len Cohen drew about 150 people to the Looby Theatre on Rosa Parks Boulevard (right across from Watkins film school) on a cold rainy Monday night in February and there were plenty of folks from Music Row in the crowd- and the standing ovation was seriously sincere - as much for the cast and their wonderful singing as for the wonderful songs and story.

The thing is, there's plenty of talent to cover the musical theatre bases in Music City USA - with Marjorie Halbert and the musical theatre program at Belmont setting the bar as high as it can get. Over at Lipscomb they're training their own crew of triple threats as well.

This spring we can catch the musical theatre talents of TSU with their production of THE FANTASTICKS.

And who knew that Cathy Street could find so many excellent voices for that concert version of CHESS. It was well worth the drive to Elm Hill Pike.

Speaking of which, we don't really have a theatre district in Nashville, but we do have some major theatre destinations, starting with THE DARKHORSE on Charlotte Pike, which if I remember correctly, was founded by a crew that included current owner Shannon Wood and Denice Hicks, Artistic Director of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.

Any theatre tour of Nashville would have to start at The Darkhorse because that's where most of us got our starts in one way or another. It's also home these days to THE SHADES OF BLACK THEATRE FESTIVAL coming up in the fall.

And there is kind of a mini theatre district in the Bongo Java/Belmont area, where Ken Bernstein's Upstairs After Hours @ Bongo Java has served as launching pad for many a Nashville project, including the alarmingly successful and long running DOYLE AND DEBBIE SHOW. Bongo sits across from the pedestrian entrance to Belmont Univesity and Belmont's Massey Hall and beautiful Troutt Theatre with it's fin de siecle mainstage and the nifty blackbox where cool things of all ilks happen. This is where we'll go to see LA CASA DE BERNARDA ALBA.

Back in the day, I made my stage debut with Circle Players at TPAC, which is our "Big House" downtown and home base for Tennessee Rep. If you go to TAPC you want to eat at Demo's. It's a bit of a walk from 3rd and Commerce to 5th and Deaderick, but you can pass through Printer's Alley and have a quick brew and a song at Lonnie's Western Room & Kareoke Honky Tonk. I lived on Printer's Alley for my first 9 months in Nashville - you have to check it out.

We have our own Parthenon here in Nashville in Centennial Park, and that's also where you will find Nashville Shakespeare in the summer and also Carolyn German and The Metro Parks Theatre Department. There's also a really cool little bar-b-que restaurant on the west edge of the park.

The Parthenon is right across from Vanderbilt and the lovely VUT theatre sits right in the middle of things as you enter the campus from 23rd Avenue. They're getting ready to open Lilian Hellman's THE CHILDREN'S HOUR.

The thing is that you do need a map and really reliable GPS to get to the great theatre in "Nashville" be it Chaffin's Barn out in the middle of no where, The Renaissance Center in Dickson or The Boiler Room in Franklin - which by the way is a must for musical theatre, and set in this great kind of neo country urban shopping center called The Factory, because I guess that's what it was at one time.

Or a trip to Murfreesboro for an evening at Out Front on Main or a great University production at MTSU - whose theatre students always seem to be on hand to help out with local productions.

Franklin is also the home to O'More College of Design. I don't know if they do theatre, but I would bet that some name costumers are going to come out of their program. Check 'em out at www.omorecollege.edu

With all this inspiration, I might even write another musical myself.

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theater.

Jaz Dorsey
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project


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