Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Things To Do

May 10, 2012

Broadway, Hollywood star Bob Gunton returns to Tennessee

CROSSVILLE — As the Cumberland County Playhouse approaches its 50th birthday, it begins its Golden Anniversary Series of events celebrating its colorful history with Broadway and Hollywood star, singer, and actor Bob Gunton in the world premiere of his new autobiographical show, Walking on Water: A Journey in Musical Theater and Song.

Directed by Bob’s friend of 50 years, Jim Crabtree, with arrangements and musical direction by Ron Murphy, the show will open on May 18 with a special benefit performance for the Playhouse, and will continue through June 16 on the Playhouse Mainstage, where Bob’s long theatre career began in 1965.

A native Californian, former Roman Catholic seminarian and decorated Vietnam veteran, Bob is a key figure in Playhouse and Cumberland County history — and the theater’s first “star.” He created the role of Johnny Timberlake in Tennessee, USA, which he played for five consecutive seasons. Also at the Playhouse, Bob was seen as Emile de Becque in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, Billy Bigelow in Carousel, Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun and the everyman hero in Step to the Music, Paul’s Crabtree’s final musical theater work.

After his infantry combat tour in Vietnam, Bob made his Broadway musical debut opposite Meryl Streep in Happy End, and then was cast by legendary director Hal Prince to star opposite Patti LuPone in the original Broadway production of Evita as Juan Peron, the role which earned him his first Tony Award® nomination. Other Broadway appearances included King of Hearts, the musical Working (by Stephen Schwartz, composer of the mega-hit Wicked) and Roger Miller’s Big River — all of which feature his singing on the original cast albums. In 1990, he received his second Tony® nomination as the title character in the first Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s landmark musical, Sweeney Todd. Walking on Water will feature songs from these and many other shows from Bob’s long theatre career.

He has appeared in over 100 film and television roles, most recently co-starring in 24 and the current hit Royal Pains. He’s played Presidents Richard Nixon, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and Governor George Wallace in various TV movies and docudramas. And his iconic performance as Warden Norton helped make the movie The Shawshank Redemption one of the most beloved and popular films of our generation. 

In Walking on Water, Bob shares his life in song and story, from a high school gymnasium where he was a guitar-playing folk singer, to a seminary science lab in Baltimore where he first sang for Paul Crabtree, to the stage of the Playhouse where the role of Johnny Timberlake made him a teenage heartthrob in 1965. His journey takes him — and his audience — back to Vietnam, back to the loss of a first love, on to Broadway and his becoming a husband and father, then on to Hollywood, a new career, and a providential late-in-life romance. Along the way, he sings the great songs he’s introduced, discovered, and shared with audiences everywhere. He is joined onstage by Austin Price and Margaret French, who portray his partners, accomplices, loved ones, critics, co-stars and inspirations in a life overflowing with duets and drama.

Accompanied by Ron Murphy’s band — and by images and film clips of his work, from Tennessee, USA to Broadway and Hollywood — Bob recounts a memorable journey full of twists and turns, ironies and epiphanies, and love lost and won. And music…always music.

The opening night gala celebration includes both individual and group photo opportunities with Mr. Gunton and a post-show catered reception in the Adventure Theater. Please call the box office at (931) 484-5000 for more details and ticket prices.

Currently in the Adventure Theater: Driving Miss Daisy (rated G, sponsored by Dr. Stanley Bise, MD) held over through May 26 and The Moving of Lilla Barton (rated PG) through May 25. On the Mainstage through May 12 is All Shook Up! (rated PG, sponsored by The Conference Center at Fairfield Glade) and the hilarious musical Cowboys through July 20 (rated G, sponsored by The Beef & Barrel, The Blind Zebra, and Red’s Ale House). Tickets for all CCP shows and select performances at Crossville’s Palace Theater may be purchased online at or by calling (931) 484-5000. All CCP productions are made possible through sponsor support, with additional support provided by the Tennessee Arts Commission.


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