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Hope and community will take center stage at the Cumberland County Playhouse for the rest of the 2021 season.

“From the friendship of Driving Miss Daisy and the lessons of love in Godspell, to Little House on the Prairie where they’re building a community and Scrooge where we see how infectious love can be to a community and Plaid Tidings when they sing peace into the world, we think this season will be inspiring and hopeful to the rest of the community,” said Bryce McDonald, producing director of the Cumberland County Playhouse.

McDonald is thrilled to be offering Driving Miss Daisy, starring Michael Ruff, Patty Payne and Jason Ross, June 15-Aug. 5.

This Pulitzer Prize-winning play tells of a friendship that crossed color lines and religious differences.

“It’s another perspective on the past and all the things we see when we turn on the news,” he said. It’s moving and touching and hysterical.”

Godspell, playing July 2-Aug. 22, is a favorite of McDonald’s. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the classic musical by Stephen Schwartz, the award-winning composer of Wicked. The music will have audiences ready to dance in the aisles or sing along with folk-tinged tunes.

The play comes from the Book of Matthew and teaches the parables through song, with stories of friendship, loyalty, community and love.

“I think we need a show like this — that we’re all equal, all stronger together and all part of a global community,” McDonald said.

It’s also the first musical on the Playhouse stage since February 2020’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang JR.

Always…Patsy Cline is a Playhouse favorite, with Kellye Cash and Patty Payne repising their roles as the country music star and the woman who shared an enduring friendship with the singer.

“It’s great music and a great story,” McDonald said.

The show funs July 23-Sept. 2.

Thriller The 39 Steps will make its Playhouse premier Aug. 13. Based on the 1935 Alfred Hitchcok film and the 1915 John Buchan novel, the story is a spy novel with a dash of Monty Python, McDonald said.

“There’s some great theater magic in this show,” he added.

Four actors will play about 150 characters, with comedy, action and romance adding up to an unforgettable evening.

Since reopening after the pandemic closures of the spring of 2020, the Playhouse has worked with a small company of about 10 actors on stage and teaching their youth programs. But the production of Little House on the Prairie The Musical marks a shift, with more than 25 actors taking the stage.

“We’ve been trying to get this show for at least 10 years,” McDonald said.

It had been part of the 2020 season but was postponed due to the uncertainty of last fall.

“It’s a great tribute to the books and the television series, with all the characters you love,” he said.

The sweeping stage adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved series takes the audience from the Ingalls family journey west through the hardships of life on the prairie and the building of a new town. Through the show, Laura grows from a child to a woman embracing her own future while being true to herself.

Little House on the Prairie The Musical will have performances from Sept. 10 through Oct. 28.

Peter and the Starcatcher will make it’s Playhouse premier Oct. 8. This innovative play delves into the backstory of beloved character Peter Pan and the residents of Neverland. The swashbuckling tale features pirates, a ship at sea and a mission to protect precious cargo.

“There is something for everyone in this production,” McDonald said. “Kids will love it, but adults will find it’s a very clever story.”

It continues through Nov. 11.

The Christmas season kicks off with Scrooge, a musical adaptation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Jason Ross plays Ebenezer Scrooge and will delight audiences as one magical night changes his perspective.

“It’s one of my favorite holiday stories and one of the best adaptations of A Christmas Carol,” McDonald said.

Plaid Tidings brings a heavenly four-part harmony to the stage just in time for Christmas, with appearances by the Rocketts, the Chipmunks and the Vienna Boys Choir. Plaid Tidings, scheduled Nov. 19-Dec. 19, lifts spirits and offers a heavy dose of nostalgia for classic musical favorites in perfect harmony.

With the new shows will come expanded capacity in the theaters. McDonald said 300 tickets will be available in the Main Stage theater through the summer, up from 115, and the Adventure Theater will seat 160, up from 75.

Reserved seating will also be available beginning with the opening of Driving Miss Daisy in mid-June. Shows have been general admission since reopening last summer.

“We want to feel out what our patrons are comfortable with,” McDonald said.

Staff and volunteers will continue to wear masks, and patrons are encouraged to do what makes them comfortable. That can include asking for seating in a section with social distancing.

Current plans are to return to full capacity with the launch of the fall season in September.

McDonald said it’s been great to see the Playhouse full of life again.

“People are staying in the lobby and taking photos after shows,” he said. “There’s a lot more communal activity and you can hear voices throughout the building. That’s a joy.”

The Playhouse website is still under construction. However, the Playhouse Facebook page includes links to purchase tickets, and there is a link at ccplayhouse.com. The Box Office is also happy to take reservations by phone at 931-484-5000.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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