Aretha poster

It’s no secret that arts organizations have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in putting together Studio Tenn’s upcoming season, Artistic Director Patrick Cassidy has chosen to focus on the positive.

“We had just recently moved to town and were days away from opening The Aretha Legacy when everything shut down in March of 2020,” says Cassidy, who marked his directorial debut with the company in December with a polished production of Its A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. “Like everyone, we had to postpone and cancel, and pivot to virtual content. But as scary as it was having those doors close, we had a lot of windows open.

"The shutdown really gave me the opportunity to get to know the community better – connecting with other arts leaders, learning the history and figuring out where we needed to go. It’s been a challenge, but it also allowed us to think outside the box in terms of what we wanted this season to be, and what made sense with our current situation.”

That season kicks off with the much-anticipated return of The Aretha Legacy: A Musical Tribute to the Queen of Soul, running Feb. 10-20. Cassidy has enlisted the help of longtime friend and renowned director Robert Clater, who actually started his career working with Broadway legend Michael Bennett in the original cast of Dreamgirls.

“Studio Tenn’s Legacy series has become such an institution, so we knew we wanted to bring back The Aretha Legacy," Cassidy explained. "But after all this time, we were really starting from scratch. So I called Robert, and he jumped in with both feet. We’ve got Nashville’s own Ronnie Robertson as our musical director, and an amazing cast of powerhouse singers. It’s taken two years to get here, but I couldn’t be more excited to get this one in front of an audience. These guys are going to blow the roof off the Jamison Theater – what a treat.”

As an added treat for audiences, Studio Tenn also will present a limited run of Love Letters, Feb. 14-15 and 21-22. Penned by A.R. Gurney, this Pulitzer Prize finalist – which follows the 50-year correspondence between two childhood friends – has become a favorite among both audiences and performers, with productions often featuring celebrity casting. In this case, Cassidy has recruited Sally Struthers and Conrad John Schuck for the first weekend, while the second weekend pairs Kathie Lee Gifford with Cassidy himself.

“I knew I wanted to do something special for Valentine’s Day, and because Love Letters doesn’t require a full set, we’re able to perform it during the run of The Aretha Legacy. It’s a simple, yet charming show, and just a wonderful opportunity to bring together some dear friends and incredible talent. I think audiences are going to love it.”

On April 9, Studio Tenn moves to Liberty Hall in The Factory at Franklin for its annual fundraiser One Night Only. This year’s theme is “Broadway’s Big Top,” and it promises a fun evening inspired by “Big Top” musicals, such as The Greatest Showman and Pippin.

One Night Only has always been our biggest fundraiser, so we knew we wanted to pull out all the stops,” Cassidy says. “We’ve got Studio Tenn favorite Patrick Thomas serving as our emcee and musical director – sort of our own P.T. Barnum. Plus, we have a fantastic lineup of circus and Broadway performers. It’s going to be a great evening of entertainment.”

Finally, Studio Tenn will present Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical Camelot, May 5-15. Based on T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, the story follows the tragic love triangle involving the idealistic King Arthur, his queen Guinevere and his friend Lancelot. The Tony Award-winner features familiar songs such as “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “C’est Moi,” “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and, of course, “Camelot.”

“This is actually David Lee’s adaptation, which features an ensemble of just eight people,” Cassidy says. “It’s really a fresh approach that keeps the focus squarely on the music and the love story. My friend Phil McKinley [Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark; The Boy From Oz] is directing, and we’ve just started casting. But it’s going to be a beautiful show.

“We’re just so thrilled to be back in the theater,” he adds. “It feels like a new chapter, and I hope the community will continue to support and embrace Studio Tenn as its own.”

To learn more, visit studiotenn.com.