Offering up Nashville area theater patrons a musical holiday treat, Studio Tenn will present a special performance of A STUDIO TENN CHRISTMAS on Wednesday, December 13 at 7 p.m. at Jamison Hall in The Factory at Franklin (230 Franklin Rd, Franklin, TN 37064), featuring some on Tennessee’s most talented singers and musicians. While last year’s A STUDIO TENN CHRISTMAS was presented during a longer run, this year they’re back to the special limited engagement one-night-only performance. (At the time of this article, very few tickets remain). One reason this year’s Christmas concert is only one night is because Studio Tenn is also currently in the midst of a month-long run of C.S. Lewis’ beloved winter tale, THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. In fact, those in attendance for Wednesday’s near SOLD OUT Christmas musical event will get a peek at Studio Tenn’s gorgeous set being used for THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, as A STUDIO TENN CHRISTMAS temporarily sets up shop on the same stage designed by Studio Tenn’s masterful artistic director, Matt Logan.
Earlier this month I had a chance to chat with several members of the company to talk about holiday traditions, memories and what fans of Studio Tenn’s annual Christmas musical event can expect. What follows are those brief conversations in the latest installment of my recurring Rapid Fire Q&A feature.
JONATHAN PINKERTON: OK, you gotta know by now that I’m obsessed with Studio Tenn’s annual Christmas show. Last year’s 60’s TV holiday special vibe was magical! How does this year’s show differ from last year’s?
LAURA MATULA: I loved it so much too! It’s ultimately the goal to make the Christmas show a tradition that people can get excited about and have on their list of things to do before the holidays so we don’t want to stray too far from the feel and musical style of last year’s show. There were so many knock out performances by the incredible singers I know I want to have on repeat! A Studio Tenn Christmas album – there’s an idea! We will be changing up the set list a bit from last year and peppering in some other tunes we love that we have covered during the holidays but for sure there will be encores of those great big band arrangements and the heart warming ballads you love. Also, we will be performing on THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE set so it will be magical in a different way!
JP: As Musical Director, what’s the most challenging aspect of presenting old favorites with a new flair?
LAURA MATULA: Matt spent so much time curating the tunes for last year and the year before that we really have vetted the arrangements of these classic tunes to find the most solid versions of the tunes. It is really challenging to present a song that people have heard their whole lives and make it feel fresh. It is not the same challenge, however, as a Legacy show where reinterpreting tunes is so important because doing an imitation of the original will only ever feel less than. With holiday tunes there are SO many takes on versions that there normally isn’t just one quintessential version which gives you a lot more freedom with the style. I feel really strongly that it comes down to the musical style and interpretation of the performer singing the tune. Each performer in our show could sing The Christmas Song or Oh Holy Night for instance and each version would sound unique because it would be sung through the experience of that performer and with their storytelling abilities. The performers who have become standbys for the Christmas show really have that ability to bring their individual styles to the table that in turn provides the audience with a variety of styles to hear.
JP: Is there one particular arrangement in this year’s Christmas show that you’re particularly fond of?
LAURA MATULA: For this year’s show I haven’t had my hand in custom arrangements like I have for MAS shows or more recently Theater Bug shows I have Musical Directed so I can’t take much credit for the arrangements:) A few of my favorites are Piper singing O Christmas Tree which is just simple and stunning. Patrick on Pretty Paper is equally as heart warming and lovely. One of my personal favorites to sing is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and it never ceases to make me emotional.
JP: As a wife and mother, what’s your favorite part of the holiday season?
LAURA MATULA: Oh my goodness I just love Christmas. I love all the little things like snuggling in the glow of Christmas tree lights and listening to Vince Guaraldi to making hot cocoa with mint marshmallows and Christmas cookies with my mom, nieces and daughter, taking time to do puzzles and play games as a family, to picking out special presents for all the people I love. I especially love my mother’s candy cane bread on Christmas morning. We moved so much when I was a child we didn’t have things like ornaments we hung up every year and places we went that were always the same but we always had that bread and it isn’t Christmas morning without it somehow. More than anything I love getting to spend true quality time with my daughter and husband and my extended family and celebrate life together. It makes this cold heart grow 3 sizes for sure and getting to sing and be a part of the Christmas show is the things that really kicks off the season for me and when I get to stand there and sing with people I love and bring smiles and warmth to the faces I see in the audience with music and heart there’s just nothing more special to share.
JP: Last year, your quartet on White Christmas’ Snow with Bradley, Erin and Matt brought unexpected tears to my eyes as it’s my favorite moment from the classic holiday film. What’s gonna make my ‘eyes sweat’ this year?
LAURA MATULA: Well I hope we can make your ‘eyes sweat’ with that song again this year if we add it to the list! You know, it’s really so interesting how songs always speak to someone where there are at that exact moment in time in such a unique way and can speak to the person next to them in a completely different way. That’s one thing I just love about the power of song. The first year I sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas I had a friend who had just lost his mother and all I could think of was how very different Christmas was going to be that year for him and his family and it made the song mean something so new to me that I almost couldn’t get through the tune. Every year of life we go through and as we approach these beautiful holiday tunes with added experience to our minds and hearts the way we experience them begins to evolve. You can hear a song your whole life and then one day it can mean something new to you and that is just so incredible and shows the power of these holiday tunes. My hope for the show is that everyone can come sit and share warmth and joy with us for an hour or two and walk away feeling lighter and holding their loved ones closer in their hearts as they spread love, peace and hope in this world that is in desperate need of it. Long story short, I don’t know what tunes will speak to your heart but I sure do hope we can sit and share some beautiful moments in the theater together:)
JP: Before we chat about the show, how’s Mother Mot? Is she gonna be up to fixing red eye gravy, biscuits and ham for Christmas breakfast this year, or is she passing the secret recipe on to you?
PIPER JONES: Mother Mot is doing so well! It’s honestly a miracle. She’s home, piddling around the house like her old spunky self. But I think I’ll be the one making the red eye gravy this year. Her highness has passed the cooking torch to me! Haha!
JP: At last year’s A STUDIO TENN CHRISTMAS, your take on Count Your Blessings was so spectacular. What are among the blessing you’ll be counting this holiday season?
PIPER JONES: This year, I am definitely grateful to still have my grandmother with me. It’s probably the biggest blessing God could’ve given me. I’m thankful every morning I get to wake up and make her breakfast, drink our coffee, and make our bids on The Price Is Right (it’s our thing). I’m also so grateful that I finally finished my EP, Conqueror. It was a labor of love, but this journey has been so worth it!
JP: Is there a song you’re performing during the show this year that you’ve grown surprisingly fond of?
PIPER JONES: Definitely O Christmas Tree. When Matt gave me that song last year, I was a bit unsure about it. But Matt has a way of seeing the beauty in things before anyone else. I began to really study the lyrics and realized that, for me, the song is a metaphor about the steadfastness of God. It’s become one of my Christmas favorites now.
JP: Anyone who saw last year’s A Studio Tenn Christmas no-doubt remembers your rockin’ Run, Run, Rudolph in which you not only sang, but tickled the ivories. You’re also quite the guitarist. Will you be exhibiting your triple-talent-threat again this year?
PATRICK THOMAS: First, thank you for the compliments! I think with any Studio Tenn revue or cabaret-style show it’s safe to assume that I will be playing the keys at the very least. I’m pretty fortunate in that I have found friends in Studio Tenn’s management and artistic teams that not only allow, but encourage me to utilize every tool in the toolbox. Cliches aside, you can definitely expect to see some instrumental features. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
JP: When I chatted with Laura, I admitted she had me crying last year during one of her songs. If you happened to have seen my review of last year’s show, you know that you too had me tearing up with your version of Pretty Paper. Is there a Christmas song that tugs at your heartstrings?
PATRICK THOMAS: Once again, thank you for the compliment. To be fair, Laura could probably make someone cry with a performance of Happy Birthday. I don’t know anyone that communicates through song better. For me, it’s I’ll be Home for Christmas. I used to play it every year at my Granddaddy’s house and watch him tear up talking about hearing that song while overseas during WWII. Even if it weren’t for the personal nostalgia, the song on it’s own is just perfect to me…melody, lyrics, everything.
JP: When you were young, what’s one Christmas gift you received that you still fondly remember getting?
PATRICK THOMAS: There’s two. My first dog, a little Australian Shepherd named Toby. I think I was only four or five years old. The second was my Yamaha midi keyboard. I got that gift from my parents when I was in middle school and, almost embarrassingly, am still playing the same keyboard at shows and events today. I need a new one terribly, but don’t think I will ever get rid of the original. Too may songs have been written on it, shows played, memories made, and so on.
JP: Having been a fan of your voice and talent since your Boiler Room Theatre days, and loving your performances in last year’s A STUDIO TENN CHRISTMAS and last month’s equally brilliant annual One Night Only Studio Tenn Gala, I was so happy to see that you’re part of this year’s Christmas show. Does this mean we’ll be seeing you onstage in an upcoming musical play at Studio Tenn?
MEL ADAMS: Oh that’s so sweet of you to say! I’m so excited to be back on stage with Studio Tenn, and am thrilled to usher in the Christmas season with some of the most talented performers in Nashville! Anytime Studio Tenn wants to offer me a job, I will happily take it!
JP: Alright, last year, I was all about your Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me performance. Equal parts glam, sadness and sass. Not a bad burden to bare, huh?
MEL ADAMS: Oh I know! Isn’t that song the best? I’m such a huge fan of White Christmas and everything Rosemary Clooney. Singing that song is one of my favorite moments in the show!
JP: What’s your favorite holiday tradition?
MEL ADAMS:I have a 4 year old, so the holiday is especially magical and fun for us. One of our favorite family traditions is piling in the car wearing pj’s, and driving through the Dancing Lights of Christmas . If you haven’t been I highly recommend it!
JP: When I chatted with Laura, I mentioned that when you, Laura, Erin and Matt sang Snow last year, it was among my favorite moments in the show, partly because White Christmas is my hands-down favorite Christmas movie. Do you have a favorite holiday movie or TV special?
BRADLEY GALE: My hands-down, favorite, all time Christmas movie would have to be Jingle All the Way. (Like any good child of the 90s). Nothing says Christmas to me quite like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad and the timeless struggle between man and doll.
JP: You’re currently living in Tennessee, but once called New York home and are originally from Chicago, right? What’s the most magical thing about those cities during the holidays?
BRADLEY GALE: I’m currently living in Springfield, Tennessee. We (my husband and myself) love Nashville so much we’ve decided to stick around for a while. I’ve spent plenty of Christmases in both Chicago and New York though, and I’d have to say the best part, to allude to your question, is ALL OF THE SNOW!
JP: If you could ask Santa for anything this year, whether it’s something totally fun and selfish, or world-changing a la everyone’s favorite beauty queen question…what would it be?
BRADLEY GALE: A Turbo Man doll.
With Bradley’s clever second reference in three questions to his favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger Christmas movie, my chat with members of the cast of A STUDIO TENN CHRISTMAS came to a close. If tickets to Wednesday night’s A STUDIO TENN CHRISTMAS have eluded you like Bradley’s quest for a Jingle All The Way Turbo Man action figure, you still have several chances to see Studio Tenn’s other holiday presentation, THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE as it continues it’s hugely popular run with limited numbers of tickets available for select performances through Saturday December, 23. Click Here for tickets to THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. Following a brief new year’s break, Studio Tenn will then present the Tony winning drama DOUBT: A PARABLE onstage at Jamison Theatre from February 15-25. Click Here for tickets. Then, from May 10-27, Grease will be the word as Studio Tenn travels back in time to 1959’s Rydell High for some Summer Lovin’ with the T-Birds and The Pink Ladies. Click Here for tickets to Studio Tenn’s GREASE. You can always find out the latest news from Studio Tenn by following them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
If you’ve enjoyed this latest installment of my recurring interview feature, Rapid Fire, be sure and check out previous conversations with with members of Nashville and Broadway’s most creative artists. Be sure subscribe to Nashville Arts Critic by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” section to the right of this article. You can also follow us on Facebook,Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler.