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Waco's stages bring Shakespeare, Billie Holiday, Tennessee Williams to life with weekend productions

Waco's stages bring Shakespeare, Billie Holiday, Tennessee Williams to life with weekend productions

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Waco theaters will let the work and their actors do the talking this weekend, but it’s almost like Welcome Back Weekend with four productions on the stage and one online following a different and distanced 2020.

Not only are in-person audiences back for four of the productions, but there’s variety in the offerings as well: a one-woman musical, Shakespeare in the (Indian Spring) Park, a streaming one-man drama and a new company debuting with a Tennessee Williams classic.

Welcome back.

Here’s what’s onstage this weekend. Some COVID-19 protocols such as audience masking, online ticketing and capacity limits are still in effect, so check with the venue before coming out to the performances.

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Waco Civic Theatre, 1517 Lake Air Drive; $15, available online at ci.ovationtix.com/35622.

Waco vocalist Tyrha Linsey-Warren pays homage to Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill” at Waco Civic Theatre.

Tyrha Lindsey-Warren, who plays and sings the part of jazz vocalist Billie Holiday in the Waco Civic Theatre production, is quick to say that she won’t be trying to replicate Holiday’s signature style. “I don’t sound like Billie Holiday. I can’t do that. I’m paying homage to her — and I will still sound good,” she said with a laugh.

The Lanie Robertson musical captures Holiday, an iconic jazz and pop singer from the 1930s to 1950s, in a 1959 show at the Philadelphia jazz club four months before her death. It’s largely a revue of Holiday’s best-known songs with some dialogue in between.

The actress and singer saw the original musical during its 2014 run with Audra McDonald, who won a Tony Award for her performance.

Although many in Waco know Lindsey-Warren as a Baylor marketing professor, founder of the Waco Family & Faith International Film Festival and an occasional jazz/pop singer, she’s got a considerable background in musical theater.

She was the first African American woman to graduate from Northwestern University’s music theater program, although she admits she also majored in television and film production to placate her father. She performed in the West Coast tour of the Broadway musical “Play On!,” starred in several musical productions in Los Angeles, Illinois and Ohio; toured with singers Kathy Wade and Valerie Simpson; opened for Grammy Award winning jazz musicians, Kirk Whalum, Roy Haynes and Pieces of a Dream; and toured Blue Note Jazz Clubs in Japan.

In this weekend’s Waco Civic Theatre production, she’s backed by two notable Waco jazz musicians, Dave Wild on piano and Chuck Jennings on bass, both of whom who have played behind Lindsey-Warren in past jazz gigs.

The threesome will perform about 15 songs from Holiday’s repertoire, including signature numbers like “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit,” “Don’t Explain,” “Crazy He Calls Me” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”

“As You Like It,” 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Indian Spring Park; free. Those attending may bring blankets or lawn chairs for seating.

Technically, last June’s performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Common Grounds coffeehouse premiered Shakespeare under the stars for director Trent Sutton’s Wild Imaginings performing arts company.

COVID-19 considerations, however, limited the audience size and number of performances, so this weekend’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It” staged in Indian Spring Park comes closer to the Shakespeare in the Park that Sutton has had in mind for several years.

“I’m originally from Austin and free theater in the park was something I grew up with,” he said.

Sutton was one of the players in the series of Shakespeare scenes that the InSite Shakespeare Studio troupe performed at Brotherwell Brewing in 2019. Like those productions, “As You Like It” will emphasis the actors and dialogue more than sets or costuming. He’s staging “As You Like It,” one of his favorite Shakespearean comedy, in contemporary times. “I want to bring Shakespeare in our current experience,” he explained.

The comedy plays with romance and mistaken identities, with forest banishment due to court intrigues helping form relationships between Rosalind (Mackenzie Nelson), daughter of banished Duke Senior (Karen Savage), and Orlando (Hunter Edmundson); Rosalind’s cousin Celia (Emilia Getzinger); and Orlando’s brother Oliver (Jake Page) and two other couples.

“A Streetcar Named Desire,” 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jubilee Theatre, 1319 N. 15th St.; $10, available at eventbrite.com.

The new Waco Drama Troupe makes its debut this weekend with its production of the Tennessee Williams classic, staged in Mission Waco’s Jubilee Theatre and, apropos of its New Orleans setting, featuring live music.

The weekend production features Bradyn Braziel as fading beauty Blanche, Alex Barton as her sister Stella, Collin Selman as Stella’s rough husband Stanley, Ryan Kirby as Stanley’s friend Mitch and Jennifer Patin as neighbor Eunice.

“Dancing Lessons,” 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Baylor University’s Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center; $15, available at baylor.edu/theatre or by calling 710-1865.

Baylor University directing graduate Cassie Nordgren, a former dancer and New York resident, strongly identified with the subject of Baylor Theatre’s weekend production “Dancing Lessons.” The two-person play concerns a New York dancer (Rebecca Smith) who’s facing the possible loss of her career due to injury only to have an apartment neighbor (Joseph Tully) ask for a personal lesson to help him overcome anxiety caused by his own ailment.

"It's hard to say what I relate to more, as a dancer or as a New Yorker," she said. Nordgren lived 10 years in New York before moving to Waco last fall. During a pandemic shutdown last year that kept Nordgren and her roommate largely in their apartment, they found a neighbor concerned for their welfare had slipped the occasional $100 bill under their door to help out. Creating the play's set with her team made her miss the city, she added.

The two-person play, staged at Baylor’s Theatre 11 to audiences limited to 30 people, finds both characters learning more about life as they find common ground in helping each other. The play runs about 90 minutes with no intermission.

“An Adam Experiment” with Michael Chenevert, livestreamed 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; $10, available at showtix4u.com.

Actor Michael Chenevert’s performance as pioneering Black Congressman Adam Clayton Powell in the one-man show “An Adam Experiment” was presented in February as a collaboration with the Waco Family & Faith International Film Festival and the Waco Civic Theatre.

His livestreamed performances will be repeated online this weekend Friday through Sunday.

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