Nashville, Tenn. – August Wilson’s “Jitney” opens Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s 2021 Summer Shakespeare Thursday with two well-known TV and film actors leading an accomplished cast, an award-winning and highly regarded director and a five-time Grammy winner providing original music.
Local Black-owned theater company Kennie Playhouse Theatre is collaborating with Nashville Shakes to produce the show, which runs Aug. 12-22 at oneC1TY in Nashville, and Sept. 16-17 at Williamson County Performing Arts Center at Academy Park in Franklin, Tenn.
The cast of “Jitney” – as the production’s press release notes, “an unflinching look into the stories and struggles of Black life in 1970’s Pittsburgh through the lens of a group of tight-knit, independent cab, or jitney, drivers” – includes Emmy-nominated Kamal Angelo Bolden of TV’s “The Resident”, “Chicago Fire”, and “Rosewood” playing Booster and Brian Anthony Wilson, a prolific TV and film actor widely known for his role on TV’s “The Wire”, playing the jitney station owner, Becker. The play will also feature Kyra Davis as Rena and Nashville-based professional actors Gerold Oliver, Clark Harris, Pierre Johnson, Elliot Winston Robinson, and Jarvis Bynum. Kenny Dozier, Artistic Director of Kennie Playhouse Theatre plays the role of Turnbo. Rashad Rayford and Ethan Jones will join the cast as Booster and Shealy respectively in Franklin. Fisk University instructor Persephone Felder Fentress completes the team as the stage manager.
Directing “Jitney” is the award-winning, veteran director Chuck Smith. He is a 30-year Resident Director at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, a Resident Director at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, Fl., and a founding member of the Chicago Theatre Company. Smith has numerous directing credits across the nation and has won several awards over the decades including a Chicago Emmy and the African American Arts Alliance’s Lifetime Legacy Award.
Five-time Grammy Award-winning bassist Victor Wooten recently joined the creative team. Wooten, also a songwriter and record producer who was ranked among the Top 10 Bassists of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine, will compose original music for the show.
The creative team of “Jitney” also includes local set designer Shane Lowry, who is building the versatile set for both shows at the Summer Shakespeare Festival (their production of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” runs Aug. 26-Sept. 12 at oneC1ty and Sept. 18-19 at the Williamson County Performing Arts Center), costumes are designed by Hazel Robinson, lights by Janet Berka, props by Pixie Convertino, and fights choreographed by David Wilkerson.
“Jitney” and “Twelfth Night” mark the summer festival’s return after a one-year hiatus because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The festival has protocols in place to protect cast, crew and patrons during performances. NSF last presented a lovely production of “The Tempest” in 2019. Nashville Shakespeare also produced two wonderful educational films for students earlier this year adapted from “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
Summer Shakespeare Festival is free, but donations of $10 or more are strongly encouraged for the continued operation of the esteemed nonprofit professional company that began in 1988 with a TheateRevolution production of “As You Like It” in Centennial Park. Patrons can bring their own blanket or chairs, purchase reserved “Noble” seating for $40 or buy $100 VIP Royal Packages, which include reserved parking, comfortable reserved seating, and dinner catered by Bacon & Caviar Gourmet Catering.
Go to ticketsnashville.com to purchase those seats/packages. “Jitney” is rated MA for mature audiences. The Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s programs are funded in part by the Tennessee Arts Commission, Metro Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.