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Shelbyville playwright to stage new musical in Louisville

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Mike Smith’s ‘Jenny Lind’ will be performed at Clifton Center

By Lisa King

A Shelby County playwright has a play set to debut in Louisville in April, and auditions will be held there on Sunday.

When Jenny Lind Came To Town, a fact-based musical docu-drama celebrating Jenny Lind’s April 1851 performances in Louisville and Madison, Ind., will make its debut at the Clifton Center in Louisville on April 3-7.

The play is the newest work of playwright and Shelbyville resident Mike Smith, whose hobby of collecting vintage programs and tickets inspired him to write and produce a play about renown 19th century soprano Jenny Lind.

The play, directed by Bill Breuer and with Shelbyville resident Lynne McReynolds Chenault as musical director, tells the story about P.T. Barnum’s plan to bring the “Swedish Nightingale” on tour to America and how Billy Wilson, an employee of a pork house in Madison, Ind., convinced Barnum to change Lind’s tour and make an unscheduled stop in Madison.

Smith said the idea of writing a musical about Lind came to him out of nowhere in the summer of 2010 after he acquired a collection of Jenny Lind material from eBay.

“Since Jenny had actually performed in Louisville, [I thought] maybe I should do a play about her,” he said. “When I purchased this collection, I must admit I knew absolutely nothing of Jenny Lind other than she lived in the nineteenth century and in some way had been associated with Tom Thumb. Strangely, the reason I wanted the ticket was that it carried the date of 1851 – something badly needed for my collection of tickets.”

Smith said that When Jenny Lind Came to Town will include a re-creation of Lind’s performance in Louisville’s Mozart Hall, which in 1851 had just opened at the corner of 4th and Jefferson streets.  Featured characters will include P.T. Barnum (Lind’s manager), General Tom Thumb, composer Stephen Foster and Henry Clay.

Music will include popular music of the period performed at Louisville and Madison in 1851 and will detail how “My Old Kentucky Home” made its public debut with Lind in Louisville.

Auditions will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Louisville

Nature Center at 3745 Illinois Ave. The audition is open to adults and those in their late teens. Smith said many singers, both male and female, are also needed, ages 18 and up, for a chorus. The role of Tom Thumb is open and requires someone of a small stature.  A young teen would be acceptable if he has stage experience.

Auditioners should bring a headshot and resume. 

Smith has spent more than 30 years in journalism as a sports writer, news editor, investigative reporter and freelance writer. He also worked in the Department of Communications and Marketing at the University of Louisville.

In 1978, he was part of a team that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for its investigative work on extortion of prisoners within the Arizona State Prison system.

His books include Mary Mary: Nine Generations of Hollingsworths, Top of the Cards, Forever Bound (the Fiddlin’ Five and the Comeback Cats), The Misadventures of Jack Flack andTickets to a Journey in Time.

This play marks his second try as a playwright. His first, Levisa’s Fury, was staged in 2010.

Smith and his wife, Ellen, have two daughters and eight grandchildren.

Want to audition?

WHAT:Auditions for When Jenny Lind Came to Town

WHEN:1-3 p.m. Sunday

WHERE:3745 Illinois Ave., Louisville,

WHO:Ages 18 and up