Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: Mending Hearts and Making Music at the HONKY TONK LAUNDRY

L-R: Misty Cotton and Bets Malone. All photos by Michael Lamont

Bets Malone and Misty Cotton belt their way through this lightweight country and western musical two-hander by Roger Bean – creator of the popular Marvelous Wonderettes musicals and Life Could Be a Dream – and prove that female friendship wins over bad lovers any day of the week. The G-rated jaunt visits typical country storytelling territory where men are cheats and women help each other pick up the pieces, with plenty of singing and countrified self-help catchphrases to put it all into comic perspective.  

The score is a mash-up of songs from many decades of the country catalog (plus one original song by Bean and Adam McPherson, “I Wish That I Could Yodel”). Some are classic hits like D-I-V-O-R-C-E, originally sung by Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.’ Most of the rest fit into a genre of girl power country songs that came out of the late ‘80s,‘90s and beyond from artists like Martina McBride (“Independence Day”), Reba McEntire (“Take It Back”), Sara Evans (“Born to Fly”), and the Dixie Chicks (“Long Time Gone,” and “Wide Open Spaces”). Cotton and Malone funnel their characters’ emotions through the vocal wringer on all of them, often with hilarious results. Cotton’s intensity -- she's wound tighter than a drum for most of the show -- has the audience repeatedly in stitches while Malone’s blunt, unpretentious sincerity is a whole other kind of funny.

Laid back laundromat owner Lana Mae (Malone) meets uptight Katie Lane (Cotton) when she puts up a Help Wanted sign and Katie ducks in to her establishment after a run-in with her cheating ex. Act One reveals how the two bond over love gone wrong while sharing intimate details of their lives. In Act Two, they reclaim control of their destinies, and Lana Mae’s dream of becoming a country music singer, by turning her Wishy Washy Washateria into the hottest Honky Tonk stage in town.

L-R: Misty Cotton and Bets Malone

Bean’s book is appropriately hokey, with predictable outcomes that leave the audience on a rousing high, but there are times the show needs to shake its cliché-ridden writing or risk feeling dated. Billed as a new musical, it was originally written about a dozen years ago and was first produced at Milwaukee Repertory in 2005. A more recent update of the show played Vista’s Broadway Theatre earlier this year.

Both the full-blown stage show in the second act and its earlier first act set-up share a likable goofiness and folksy charm. Comic bits with audience participation work well in the Hudson’s intimate theater configuration as does James Vásquez’s classic country and western choreography. Bean’s staging is active and well-calibrated for both the space and the needs of the characters.

The Washateria is a retro-inspired dream of a set by Tom Buderwitz, who transforms the functional space into a performance venue with numerous quirky touches. Renetta Lloyd’s costumes and Byron Batista’s hair and makeup reflect each woman’s unique personality; Lana Mae’s tending toward a tastefully tacky blend of big jewelry, big hair, and big prints, and Katie’s expressed in simpler styles with more juvenile prints and less makeup. Their glammed up red leather show costumes are right on the money for the big finish.

L-R: Bets Malone and Misty Cotton

Lighting designer Steven Young pulls out some surprising creative effects, including a full night sky of fireflies and stage lighting that emanates from within the washers, dryers and shelves. Cricket Myers’ sound design is bright and balanced but the sound engineer could bring the volume down a click or two. So much nasal belting can be overwhelming in the course of two hours, especially when the actors need to hit the belt just right on the attack or risk going flat. The musical ends rather abruptly at the completion of the floor show and although it is a natural place for the audience to break into applause, I would have liked to see one final scene after their big night that wraps the whole production together.

In any case, Honky Tonk Laundry is an appealing production featuring two stars of the Southern California musical theatre scene at their best. So grab your boots and head on down to Hollywood for an empowering girls’ night out at the theatre, country style. Hubs can get his own beer ‘cause you’re done doin’ laundry tonight.

Bets Malone and Misty Cotton

HONKY TONK LAUNDRY
August 5 – Sept 17, 2017
Hudson Theatre
6539 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038 
Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm & 7pm 
Tickets: Plays411.com/honkytonklaundry
More Info: HonkyTonkLaundry.com

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Film Review: Backstage Antics Abound in OPENING NIGHT

Topher Grace. Photos courtesy of Wolfe Video

Every theatre production comes with its share of backstage drama. One Hit Wonderland, the Broadway musical comedy depicted in Gary De Leon and Greg Lisi’s indie film Opening Night is no exception. Sex, drugs, and crazy characters collide in this rousing tongue-in-cheek comedy full of splashy production numbers and entertainment in-jokes. It’s a movie for, and about, theatre people – their quirks, their insecurities, and above all, their passions. No one escapes unscathed; not the aging leading lady (Anne Heche as Brooke), the over-the-top chorus boys (including Taye Diggs), the foul-mouthed producer (Rob Riggle), or the bitchy bombshell (Lesli Margherita).

Topher Grace (funnier than ever) stars as Nick, an actor who choked in his Broadway debut a year ago and now works as the stage manager for One Hit Wonderland, a jukebox musical based on a series of Top 40 pop songs that were the only hit for the groups that recorded them. His deadpan responses to everyone’s ridiculous problems keeps them all in check but the task proves more difficult when he finds out the leading man (JC Chasez in a priceless parody of himself) has made a play for Chloe, Brooke’s understudy and his former girlfriend (Alona Tal), for whom he still has feelings.

JC Chasez

When Brooke gets knocked out by a giant chopstick, Chloe is thrust into the spotlight and finds that fame isn’t quite what she thought it would be, while Nick gets one more shot to drop his cynicism and go for what he truly wants.

Music video director Isaac Rentz brings a stylish cool factor to the storytelling in his feature film debut. He magnifies the humor by focusing on the offbeat nature of the characters in a realistic way, which heightens the absurdity of their actions. Plus, you get to see some bona fide Broadway babies like sexpot Lesli Margherita (Matilda The Musical) and a fierce Taye Diggs (Rent, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) in all their triple threat glory.

Theatre people will eat it up.



Taye Diggs (center)

Anne Heche

JC Chasez and girls

JC Chasez (center) and cast


The 83-minute R-rated film is set to release August 1st on DVD in the U.S. via Wolfe Video.


OPENING NIGHT
Directed by: Isaac Rentz
Produced by: Alex Garcia, Topher Grace, Daniel Posada, Jason Tamasco
Written by: Gerry De Leon, Greg Lisi
Starring: Topher Grace, Anne Heche, Alona Tal, JC Chasez, Lauren Lapkus, Taye Diggs, Paul Scheer, Rob Riggle, Brian Husky, Lesli Margherita
More Info: WolfeVideo


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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: The Exceptional Artistry of Hershey Felder's OUR GREAT TCHAIKOVSKY

Photos courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that this is the first
Hershey Felder performance I have attended, given the popularity of his productions and the number of original works he has produced in the last twenty years. Known for his impeccable theatrical portraits of famous composers, Felder uses his abilities as a concert pianist, composer, playwright, and actor to showcase both the artist and the man in a uniquely devised solo presentation.

The result is a hybrid genre all its own, and the consistently sold-out houses to which he plays proves that demand has only grown for his kind of theatre. George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Franz Liszt, and Leonard Bernstein have all been subjects of Felder’s exploration. Now Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) takes his turn in the spotlight as Felder presents what may be his most important and topical story to date.

Tchaikovsky was gay (though closeted), and that put him in a dangerous position living in 19th century Russia under a government regime that considered homosexual behavior to be deviant. It was a death sentence if you were found out. Many were banished to Siberia or outright killed. The sad fact is, while Tchaikovsky was a musical genius who would compose some of our greatest classical works, he lived in constant fear his entire life.

Russia’s complicated relationship with homosexuality continues, even today. Every other week another story emerges of the horrible treatment LGBT individuals are subjected to, and that is what makes Our Great Tchaikovsky such a thought-provoking piece at this time in history. As the world rises up in defense of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, the responsibility to champion human dignity at its most basic level becomes paramount.

For Tchaikovsky, living in the shadows meant pouring all of his love, longing, and despair into his music. Essentially, he composed his emotions and gave us brilliant works like Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Eugene Onegin, and Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique). Nine days after he premiered the Pathétique, he died. Cholera was the official report but rumors of a forced suicide arose and to this day the exact cause of death has never been confirmed.


Felder begins the piece by breaking the fourth wall and relating a true story about an invitation he received from Russian producers to bring his performance of their great composer to Russia. He reads from the letter and asks the audience whether or not he should go. It’s a simple question but the Russian government still considers the topic illegal (and is even going so far as to rewrite history by declaring Tchaikovsky wasn’t gay) which means Felder’s own life could be at risk for even performing it publicly.

With that thought lingering in the air, Felder morphs into the composer and begins to relate stories, tying them to his music and performing passages on a gorgeous Steinway grand piano that richly express Felder’s own sensitivity as an artist as well as Tchaikovsky’s.

One can see that his performance has been constructed with great respect for the Russian composer. An underlying elegance is woven into both the narrative structure and the visual storytelling that surrounds Felder throughout the piece.


Imagery of Tchaikovsky’s homeland softly comes into focus and then quietly transitions like virtual memories unspooling in the background. The face in a suspended picture frame also changes as the various significant figures in his life are discussed. These projections, and the lighting that so beautifully captures the depth of the composer’s emotions, is the work of Christopher Ash.

Felder has designed the scenery and, whether it was intentional or not, I couldn’t help but notice how the furnishings epitomized the weight of the era with their dark woods and heavy textures. In contrast, the piano center stage seemed to float between the two interiors with an entirely different and significantly lighter energy, functioning as a kind of respite from the reality of the world. It’s subtle stage magic and perhaps I’m reading too much into it but I was fascinated by the effect created by light, texture, and tone. Trevor Hay’s direction is seamless in its shifts from humor to beauty to pain.


Our Great Tchaikovsky’s run has already been extended a week longer than originally scheduled at The Wallis, due to high demand for tickets. I’m not surprised. The artistic consideration that has gone into the piece, together with Felder’s personal storytelling style, makes it an incredibly satisfying and tragically enlightening experience.

Those who go to the theatre looking for a great story will find one here. For the classically inclined, Felder’s mastery at the piano will remind you why you love the music. And if you’re in search of art with a message that matters, this is your ticket. There is a reason Hershey Felder’s name pops up repeatedly on theater marquees all over Los Angeles. He’s that good.

HERSHEY FELDER: OUR GREAT TCHAIKOVSKY
July 19 – August 13, 2017
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(located between Canon and Crescent)
Tickets: TheWallis.org
Click Here for directions and parking.


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Friday, July 21, 2017

First Look: THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES at Sierra Madre Playhouse


L-R: Kate Ponzio, Kelsey Boze, Afton Quast and Kelly Klopocinski. All photos by Gina Long

Roger Bean’s jukebox musical confection The Marvelous Wonderettes plays the Sierra Madre Playhouse July 21- August 27th. The show is directed by Robert Marra, with musical direction by Sean Paxton, and follows four girls from their 1958 high school prom to their ten-year class reunion in a delightful story about the power of friendship. It’s score is full of classic hits like “Lollipop,” “Lipstick on Your Collar,” “It’s My Party” and “Son of a Preacher Man.” Tickets: www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

L-R: Kelsey Boze, Afton Quast, Kelly Klopocinski and Kate Ponzio

Afton Quast

Kate Ponzio, Kelly Klopocinski, Afton Quast and Kelsey Boze

Kelly Klopocinski

Afton Quast, Kelly Klopocinski, Kelsey Boze and Kate Ponzio

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Behind the Scenes with Lara Ganz's Beauty and the Beast

Theatre Palisades Youth invites you to “be their guest” for a special presentation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr. opening July 28th at Pierson Playhouse in Pacific Palisades. Forty members of the youth theatre group are getting ready to tell the tale of an adventurous young girl and a prince trapped under a spell who find that the power of love can overcome any evil.

This 90-minute Jr. version of the musical is specifically designed for young talent, and is based on the 1994 Broadway production and Disney’s 1991 animated feature film. Director Lara Ganz (along with musical director Caitlin Tortorici) helms the production. Ganz studied musical theater at AMDA in NYC, has a psychology degree from UCLA, and is currently studying to be a children’s drama therapist, which is how she became Youth Director for TPY. After volunteering at the theater to gain experience working with children, she was asked to step into the position when the previous director was ready to move on.

So how does a director bring a beloved Disney musical to life with a cast of children? Ganz lets us in on the behind-the-scenes workings in this charming interview.

Lara, I know you have limited rehearsal time for the show so how do you put it all together so quickly?

We have to be very creative in how we use our time. Our actual rehearsal period is only two full weeks of rehearsal and one full week of tech before we open. There are 40 children in the cast and we have TRIPLE cast this show. With nine performances, each child will have three performances as their featured character and six shows in the ensemble. Essentially, they are all learning the parts for TWO shows in two weeks. We held auditions and callbacks in April/May and the actors were given scripts and CDs of the show music in May, once cast. Our unorthodox process requires that they know their music and be off-book BEFORE we begin on day one.

Children have such great imaginations. How do you help them create their characters, especially when some of them are objects like teapots, a candelabra, and a wardrobe?

I use my drama therapy background to inform the way I teach the children. They get character homework before we even start rehearsals consisting of the usual “who, what, why, etc.” I give them sensory exercises and have them experiment with the character’s walk and movement style. They write about a day in their life and then a day in the life of their character. I also have them write two “rant” monologues. One monologue is about something they personally want to exclaim and the second is to be written from their character’s point of view. They then share these with their group. What they created was unpredictable and brilliant.

Sophie Herron (Lumiere), Colin Sexton (Chip) Barrett Eastman (Belle), Bella Dixon
(Beast), Emma Lindgren (Mrs. Potts), and Safiye Gurdil (Cogsworth)
Production photos by Lesly Hall Photography 

Specifically for the inanimate objects, we have done some improvised sensory work where they physicalize the stages of transformation, incrementally, from full human to inanimate object. Then they perform improvised monologues describing how the transformation affects their character emotionally. I ask them to tell us what their character is longing for that has been lost in the transition.

I would imagine they are having a great time experimenting.

The children are extremely enthusiastic about playing these roles and are completely engaged in the exercises. They get inspired by their cast mates and will try to one-up each other with our improv games, which only brings the level of creativity to new heights!

It sounds like you encourage a strong team spirit in rehearsals.

Before we began the rehearsal process, I had the cast help me create a set of conduct and professionalism rules; a contract that we all agree to and sign. Here are some 
of the rules: 
  • I agree to take big risks and not be afraid to fail or for my choices to fall flat. I understand this is an essential part of the sacred creative process.

  • I agree to refrain from bragging and competitiveness because bragging makes other people feel bad and comparison kills creativity and is the thief of joy. Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people.

  • I agree to leave my inner Simon Cowell at home. Harsh critics have wreaked havoc on many an inspiring actor, there is no room for harsh criticism of yourself and others in the creative process.

  • I agree to be inclusive at all times while at TPY because that is how we will make new friends and demonstrate that TPY is a nurturing and supportive community. No one likes to feel like they are being excluded.
Brilliant! Why did you decide to do Beauty and the Beast now?

I have been surprised to learn how revered the story of Beauty and the Beast is in all populations! Adults, teens, tweens, “littles”-- people are SO connected to this show. It is thrilling. This was our most competitive audition ever. We had so many kids come out for the show I had to have callbacks, which is normally not necessary. I asked the children auditioning for leads to show me they could be prepared and professional. Every single child at callbacks was brilliant! I realized that I would need to reward their glorious efforts by triple casting the show. That creates an ENORMOUS amount of extra work for me and my musical and assistant directors (for no extra pay – we are a non-profit community theater) but these kids earned it!

How is working with youth different from working with adults?

I love working with both kids and adults. I am a more confident director with children. “In the land of the blind, one eye is king!” Children generally don’t have that self-conscious filter. You see it more in the middle school kids but, for the most part, they are so proud of and excited to share their ideas and creativity. It is MAGIC!

What have you found to be most surprising about directing the show?

TPY has never put on a “Disney princess” musical before. We try to avoid musicals that showcase one starring role and always look for ensemble based works. Ours is a developmental program and my mission is to use drama, music and dance to help guide ALL of the children in the program to find their true voice.

I knew the kids in the community were really excited about the Disney live action version of the movie starring Emma Watson that was soon to be released so I reluctantly decided to look into the junior version while researching summer show options. The music, the messages, the characters were just too irresistible. I had chills and beautiful tears streaming down my face while envisioning the kids performing this sublime material.

Beauty and the Beast life lessons?

As a parent, I have learned that true grit and resilience are essential qualities for children to develop in order to be emotionally healthy. Belle and the castle servants model these behaviors so beautifully. She is miserable living in a small town where the people tend to mock and dismiss her as a weirdo but she finds a way to stay happy by escaping into her beloved books. Belle selflessly sacrifices herself to save her father from captivity and she then tries to make the best of the situation. The servants never lose hope that the spell will be broken. They also learn to care for each other and to make the most of their dreadful fate.

Bella Dixon (Beast) and Barrett Eastman (Belle)

These messages and others, -- like sacrificing for love and true beauty lies within -- are always important but, with the current political and social trends, it is imperative that these strong moral themes be absorbed by young people in order to help deflect the often confusing messages that infiltrate their lives. Through performing this story as well as being fully immersed in the safe and respectful creative environment we work to create at the theater, it is my greatest hope that these ideas will have been passed onto the children by the time we close this show.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, JR
July 28 – August 6, 2017
Theatre Palisades Youth @ Pierson Playhouse
941 Temescal Canyon Rd, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Tickets: $15 available at www.theatrepalisades.org

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My My, How Can We Resist MAMMA MIA! at the Hollywood Bowl?


It isn’t summer in Los Angeles without a trip to the Hollywood Bowl, the outdoor jewel of LA, where you’ll find every kind of music imaginable throughout the season. For musical theatre lovers, the big announcement about what summer musical the Bowl will stage at the end of July is always a big deal, and this year’s fan favorite doesn’t disappoint. Mamma Mia!, the 2001 international phenomenon that captured the hearts of hopeless romantics around the world, will play the Bowl July 28, 29 & 30.

The heartwarming story about a young woman’s plot to uncover the identity of her father among three of her mother’s former loves, kicks into hilarious high gear when she invites them to her wedding and they all show up. Sophie (Dove Cameron) doesn’t know if it’s Sam (Jaime Camil), Bill (Steven Weber) or Harry (Hamish Linklater) who will turn out to be her dad, but solving the mystery is sure to be full of comic twists. As for her mother, Donna (country star Jennifer Nettles), she’s about to take a trip down memory lane she never imagined with the support of her pals Rosie (Lea DeLaria) and Tanya (Tisha Campbell-Martin). What could go wrong, right?

L-R: Corbin Bleu, Jennifer Nettles, Jaime Camil, Dove Cameron,
Lea DeLaria, Hamish Linklater, Tisha Campbell-Martin, and Steven Weber

Tony Award-winning director
Kathleen Marshall directs and choreographs the production. David Holcenberg, currently music director of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical Groundhog Day, leads the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra through Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ score, which contains two dozen incredible ABBA hits like “Dancing Queen,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimmie!” “S.O.S” and “Voulez-Vous.” If that doesn’t get you up dancing in the aisles, nothing will.

No matter how many times I've seen the musical live on stage or the film starring Meryl Streep, it never gets old. At the Bowl it promises to be an extra special night under the stars. Here we go again!

MAMMA MIA!
July 28, 29 & 30, 2017
Hollywood Bowl
Click Here for Tickets

Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and some songs with Stig Anderson
Book by Catherine Johnson
Originally conceived by Judy Craymer

Photo credit: Jaime Camil (William Callan), Dove Cameron (Bob D’Amico/Disney Channel), Lea DeLaria (Sophy Holland) 

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Photo Flash: PETER PAN at Cabrillo Music Theatre


Yvette Lawrence directs Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of Peter Pan, a family friendly musical where fairies, pirates, Lost Boys, and Indians all inhabit a magical world. The show is based on J.M Barrie’s story, with music by Mark Charlap and Jule Styne, and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and features musical direction by Dan Redfeld and choreography by Cheryl Baxter. Now through July 23, 2017 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Photo credit: Ed Krieger www.cabrillomusictheatre.com








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Monday, July 10, 2017

Photo Blast: The Old Globe's GUYS AND DOLLS

(Center) J. Bernard Calloway as Nathan Detroit and the cast of Guys and Dolls.
All photos by Jim Cox

Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls is making a splash on stage at The Old Globe in San Diego now through August 13. Nathan Detroit’s (J. Bernard Calloway) floating crap game is on the move and Sky Masterson (Terence Archie) needs to win big in this high energy singing and dancing classic musical masterpiece. But when Nathan’s long suffering fiancé Miss Adelaide (Veronica J. Kuehn) gives him an ultimatum and Sky accidentally falls in love with Sarah Brown (Audrey Cardwell) of the Save -a-Soul Mission, all bets are off as to who will win in the end. Based on Damon Runyon’s famous tales of small-time hoods and showgirls, the show is filled with some of the most singable tunes ever, including “Luck Be a Lady,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” Get your tickets now at www.theoldglobe.org.

Audrey Cardwell (Sarah Brown) and Terence Archie (Sky Masterson)

Veronica J. Kuehn (Miss Adelaide) and the Hot Box Girls

L-R: Matt Bauman (Benny Southstreet) and Todd Buonopane (Nicely-Nicely Johnson)

Crapshooters Ballet

"Sit Down You're Rockin' Th Boat with Todd Buonopane (Nicely-Nicely Johnson)
and the cast

L-R: Veronica J. Kuehn (Miss Adelaide) and Audrey Cardwell (Sarah Brown)

"Luck Be A Lady" with Terence Archie and the cast


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Thursday, July 6, 2017

First Look: PARADE at Chance Theater

Allen Everman as Leo Frank. All photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

Chance Theater is currently in previews for the Jason Robert Brown musical Parade which opens July 8th @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center on the Cripe Stage. The musical tells the story of the real-life 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager, Leo Frank (Allen Everman), accused and convicted of raping and murdering a 13-year-old employee, Mary Phagan (Gabrielle Adner). The show illustrates the dark realities of a time where prejudice, discrimination, and class separation were common practice in the community, just one moment in history that has repeated itself over and over because of a community’s intolerance. As a result, unfortunate circumstances, tragic events and a questionable judicial system continue to plague generations to follow.

Director Kari Hayter says, “I am most interested in exploring Parade as an intimate and exposed platform that reveals the most raw and universal truths of a community in order to remind us of our responsibilities today to demonstrate love, tolerance, and acceptance.” Parade runs through July 30th. Tickets: www.chancetheater.com

Madison Miller (Monteen), Madeline Ellingson (Iola Stover), and Alissa Finn (Essie)

Robert Stroud as Newt Lee

Erica Schaeffer (Lucille Frank) and Allen Everman (Leo Frank)

Devin Collins (Judge Roan) and Chris Kerrigan (Hugh Dorsey)

Dillon Klena as Frankie Epps

Tucker Boyes (Governor John Slaton), Asia Washington (Minola McKnight),
and Erica Schaeffer (Lucille Frank)

Tucker Boyes as Governor John Slaton

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