SALEM - A little over a year ago, a confident Natalie Sprouse amazed the audience at Salem Community Theatre in her debut solo concert to a standing-room-only crowd, as she displayed remarkable maturity and talent presenting two hours worth of original songs and favorite covers.
Now she is returning to the SCT stage in a new production, "In Concert unplugged," at 7:30 p.m. June 29.
This all-acoustic evening of music features many new original compositions that Sprouse has been working on for over a year, a style of songs that she refers to as "Americana," telling stories and bringing musical life to characters of earlier eras.
The "unplugged" presentation provides an intimate and personal atmosphere, bringing her elements of folk, blues, jazz, and gospel to not only her own songs, but to ones by some of her favorite influences, including Bonnie Raitt, Patsy Cline and Allison Krauss.
Sprouse will, of course, be singing and playing her acoustic guitar and newly-acquired dobro, but she will also be accompanied by a four-piece band, sometimes know as the "Bodacious Bobcats" (the name courtesy of several shows that they have played together for the theater) that includes D.J. Depanicis on acoustic guitar, banjo and tuba; Dan Kalosky on upright bass and banjo; Ed Koran on fiddle, mandolin and pedal steel guita; Gary Kekel on piano and percussion; plus Cheryl Kekel on vocals and hand percussion. These versatile and accomplished musicians provide the perfect background for Sprouse's natural sound, and complement the material with a variety of instruments and moods.
Special guest artist at the concert will be Maureen Collins, familiar to regional audiences as founder, songstress and actress of Easy Street Productions. Collins met Sprouse during the "DeYor Singing Star" competition, helping to select Sprouse as the ultimate winner of that competition. Since then, Collins has watched her grow and develop as an artist, and the two have performed together in several Easy Street productions and concerts.
Displaying her many musical influences in her unique style, Sprouse, like most emerging artists demonstrates a remarkable maturity in both her singing and writing.
This latest creative burst taps into her deep-rooted affinity for traditional folk and home-style music, inspired by her grandfather, Melvin, who was a musician in West Virginia in the 1930's and 40's and continued to play fiddle until his death in 2003. One of her songs, "Wine Hollow" was written about the place where he grew up and lived.
Now just 18 years old, Sprouse has lived a life filled with and influenced by music. Singing since the age of three, at five she performed her first solo at church.
When she was 13, she won the inaugural "Voice on Main Street Vocal Competition" held in Columbiana. Her musical theater career then began at the SCT in such productions as "Cinderella," "Jekyll and Hyde," "Pirates of Penzance," and in last summer's production of "Footloose."
Two years ago, Sprouse drew well-deserved attention by winning the "DeYor Singing Star Competition" sponsored by Powers Auditorium in Youngstown. With this honor came the opportunity to perform in the "Legends Concert" with Easy Street Productions, as well as singing with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra in its Christmas concert later that year, and with Easy Street as they perform at various venues throughout the area.
Not one to stand still for very long, later this summer Sprouse will be performing a solo show at the Morley Pavilion in Youngstown's Mill Creek Park, then pursue some music recording education at the Recording Workshop in Chillicothe. In the fall, she will be attending NATS program of recording science in Cleveland, then look forward to Nashville, Tenn., to potentially own and operate here own recording studio, and network there as a singer and song writer.
Her concerts at SCT are part of the ongoing SCT Concert Series, introduced by managing director Gary Kekel, presenting a variety of concert-style events at the intimate, 300-seat historic (formerly movie) theater. He came upon the concept of an all-acoustic concert with Sprouse while listening to her on the Youngstown State University streaming radio station "Rookery Radio," on which she was being featured for a two-hour show.
"Some technical glitch made them unable to play songs from Natalie's CD," Kekel said, "so she just picked up her guitars and played live for over an hour. She absolutely blew us away, and I knew that would be a great way to display her talent. I proposed the idea to her, along with the built-in back-up band of the Bodacious Bobcats, and she just ran with it!"
Reserved-seat tickets for "Natalie Sprouse: In Concert unplugged" are on sale now, $10 in advance and $12 at the door, on June 29 at the SCT, 490 E. State St. For tickets and more information call the SCT box office at 330-332-9688, or go to salemcommunitytheatre.org.
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