is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

SummerFest Is Blest

Last night, I put down the mouse, got in my car and went to the University of Kentucky to watch some SummerFest productions in the making.

First up, I found the rehearsal room for RENT...and so the evening began musically, as vocal director Mark Calkins meticulously worked with the singers' entrances and exits in the musical highway that leads the audience through the RENT adventure.  His style is one of encouragement, but he is, appropriately, a stickler for details, making sure the cast knows when to cut off and what rhythm to remember to get through the "hot and sticky" parts of certain numbers.  What a treat to see how he somehow corrals the young cast's enthusiasm into the right notes and measures without losing patience...and as you can imagine, that's not an easy task, but he has the energy and musical know-how to get the job done, and I know their voices are in good hands with Calkins at the musical helm. It doesn't hurt that he has one of the best accompanists backing him up on the piano, Karen Thomas (who, in the interest of full disclosure, is my very talented sister and who can sight-read just about any piece of music as if she's known it all her life)!

[photo of Mark Calkins taken at Berea College, where Calkins is a faculty member and vocal coach extraordinare)

In addition, I spent some time getting acquainted with the very helpful stage manager for RENT, Tressa Bowling, and I was also pretty tickled to see familiar faces like Taylor Eldred and Wood Van Meter work on their roles. One fellow, who is new to the Lexington stage (or any stage except that of a his punk rock band, actually) is one Johnny Dawson, who plays Roger. His voice blends so well with the sweet vocals of Jessica Lucas (Mimi) -- their duets are remarkably tender and compelling.  However, I feel certain Dawson's contribution to RENT will be notable by more than myself -- he's a standout talent, and will be a delight to see onstage at the Arboretum, along with everyone assembled for this production.

I also had the opportunity to witness the bright-eyed energetic focus of award winning Director Tracey Bonner as she worked with the talented cast of RENT.  Her ability to organize chaos is truly a God-given talent, because I know I could never, ever take on the task of bringing a production like that to the stage, but she's handling it with great aplomb. 

Since the Guignol was just a few steps away, I also dropped in on MERCHANT OF VENICE warm-ups, where I met Director Ave Lawyer, who, thankfully, did not give me a wary eye, but smiled, welcomed me and I immediately felt a sense of comfort -- thankfully, I didn't feel the need to tell her that I am a non-snarker, that I was there only to do observe and share what is fabulous about SummerFest and all the hard work that is put forth to bring these incredible works to the stage. 

Yes, sometimes I have to tell people that, believe it or not - I often find someone saying to me before the end of the night when I observe practice sessions, "please be judicial about what you write, Kim!"  or "Don't say that I said that...or please don't write about this..."  And that's okay, people who don't know me don't have to trust me, after all...but hopefully, after they see what I have to say, they will learn that Kimmyville is a place where only good things are said about those who breathe life into the creative works our local theaters bring to the stage. Drama IS drama, after all...but as usual, I digress, don't I?

Likewise, when RENT Director Tracey Bonner entered the rehearsal room and she, too gave me a warm, welcoming look, I relaxed and took notes, knowing I didn't need to interrupt her to tell her what I was doing there.  I was tickled at the chance to witness Bonner in her developmental mode as she showed her readiness to stage the scenes and prepare every gesture in preparation for opening night.

As if you can't already tell, let me just say how impressed I am with these two ladies who have taken up the mantle of leading their casts and crews into the Arboretum in just a few short weeks, it's very interesting to watch both the concrete and abstract details being contoured by their lead.  When Bonner was working out the physical details of one of the numbers Monday night, she explained that she was very much an "organic choreographer." She was breaking down the parts, preparing and planting seeds of thought and leaving room for growth within each cast member, saying, "It may not make sense now, but I promise you it will all come together by opening let's get all our silliness out so we can do the gig!"

[photo of Bob Singleton, Adam Luckey  and Kim Dixon was taken at last year's rehearsal of Jekyll & Hyde at the Arboretum, courtesy of Tom Eisenhauer Photography]

Next door, Director Lawyer was dealing with different material with Shakespeare's MERCHANT OF VENICE, but her style is intriguing as well.  She quietly stood back and watched the pre-rehearsal exercises, but once they were done, she took charge, started the first scene and immediately asked each person in the scene what their character's intention was. I was fascinated by the fact that she did so in a gentle lightning-round fashion, so the answers were spontaneous but solid.   [More to come about MERCHANT OF VENICE as I have an opportunity to talk to some of the key players before they open a week from next Wednesday.]

Accordingly, I can't wait to see Director Sully White in action with Jon Jory's adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.  White's reputation, like Bonner and Lawyer, is one of a consummate professional who has garnered much respect within the theatrical community.  KCTC and SummerFest have made a wise decision in selecting these three women to direct Lexington's summer theatrical centerpiece, it adds a dimension to the entire festival - and wow, we are now thisclose to opening night.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited about it...can't wait to surrender my cares to the SummerFest folks on July 10th when MERCHANT OF VENICE opens. I'm gonna plop down on a blanket, watch the sunset, drink wine with some good friends, and enjoy the splendor that is SummerFest.

Below are the particulars for all three shows.  Please stay tuned as I share my casual observations with you about this annual summertime event that is one of the best entertainment values in the Bluegrass. 


SummerFest continues a 29-year tradition of outdoor summer theatre at The Arboretum: State Botanical Garden in Lexington, KY. This year's season includes:

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ave Lawyer

PRIDE & PREJUDICE (July 14-18)
adapted by Jon Jory
Directed by Sullivan Canaday White

RENT, THE MUSICAL (July 21-25)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Directed & Choreographed by Tracey Bonner
Music Direction by Mark Calkins


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare will open 2010’s SummerFest on July 7 and play through July 11, 2010. Ave Lawyer (recently seen directing On The Verge’s productions of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes and Another Part of the Forest) will make her SummerFest debut directing one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing tales of love, greed and revenge. Audiences can look forward to a unique and timeless interpretation of this classic that hasn’t been produced in Lexington for over 20 years.

The Merchant of Venice Cast Includes:

Shylock - Adam Luckey
Portia - Lisa Thomas
Antonio - Carmen Geraci
Bassanio - Bob Singleton
Gratiano - Evan Bergman
Salarino - Ryan Briggs
Lorenzo - Tanner Gray
Jessica - Joe Elswick
Nerissa - Rosanna Hurt
Launcelot - Patrick Davis
Duke - Jack McIntyre
Aragon - Jeff Sherr

Sullivan Canaday White (2008’s The Lord of the Flies) returns to SummerFest to direct a critically praised adaptation of one of the most beloved novels of our time, Pride And Prejudice. The adaptation is written by Jon Jory, well known in Kentucky as the celebrated, former, longtime Artistic Director at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Pride And Prejudice will play July 14 through July 18, 2010.

Pride And Prejudice Cast Includes:

Mrs. Bennet - Trish Clark
Elizabeth Bennett - Ellie Clark
Jane Bennett - Holly Brady
Mary Bennett - Annie Barbera
Kitty Bennett - Erin Cutler
Lydia Barrett / Georgiana - Avery Wigglesworth
Mr. Darcy - Tom Phillips
Charlotte - Sarah Levy
William Lucas/Mr. Collins/Mr. Gardner -Tim Hull
Miss Bingley/Mrs. Gardiner - Vanessa Becker
Lady Catherine - Stephanie Peniston
George Wickham - Drew Davidson


SummerFest concludes with the show that transformed the definition of musical theatre, rocked a generation and changed Broadway forever, Jonathan Larson’s blockbuster musical, RENT, playing July 21 though July 25, 2010.

Tracey Bonner, no stranger to the Lexington musical theatre scene, makes her SummerFest directing debut with this Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning musical.

RENT Cast Includes:

Mimi Márquez -Jessica Lucas
Roger Davis - John Dawson
Mark Cohen - Chip Becker
Maureen Johnson - Caroline Griffeth
Angel Dumott Schunard - Emanuel Williams
Tom Collins - Nick Vannoy
Joanne Jefferson - Sheronda Piersall
Benjamin 'Benny' Coffin III - Thomas Gibbs
Seasons Of Love Soloist - Andrea Johnson

The Ensemble Includes:
Casey Mather
Justin Norris
Sarah Matthews
Brandon Smith
Cate Poole
Beth Kovarik
Wood Van Meter
Katie Berger
Nick Covault


All SummerFest 2010 performances will begin nightly at 8:45 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays, at the Arboretum: State Botanical Garden of Kentucky on Alumni Drive. SummerFest tickets will go on sale in June 2010 and will once again feature very affordable single ticket prices of $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Season Passes to see all three shows will also be available at $25 for adults and $12 for kids.

For more information on SummerFest, or the Conservatory programming, please visit them the web at

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