Springfield Contemporary Theatre's Songbook Series presents Springfield native Nedgra Culp in two performances next week. She comes to SCT from her current engagement portraying Aretha Franklin in Branson's "Legends in Concert," and she's joined by two more of Branson's top female vocalists, Chelsie Odom and Rebecca Taylor, to form the trio "Girls on Fire." The original Sunday Feb.19 show is SOLD OUT, so they've added an additional performance Thursday Feb.23 at 7:00pm at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza, corner of Pershing and Robberson downtown.
Culp says she and Rebecca Taylor came up with the name "Girls on Fire." "We wanted to name the production something feminine, but 'masculine' in the same sense. Our basic message is that we are girls that are intelligent, beautiful, compassionate."
The group present a broad mix of big band, disco and R&B. "When we were designing the show, we wanted to make sure it was music that everyone would know some of the songs at least," says Nedgra Culp. For accompaniment they use both pre-recorded music tracks and a live keyboardist.
All three women bring a great deal of training and experience to the table. Nedgra Culp is a Springfield native and calls her musical and performance training "pretty extensive. I started way early in junior high; my teacher in high school was Connie Bilyeu. I studied Music Performance at Southwest Baptist University. And then, I fortunately just kind of got taken away out of here in 1993 by Wayne Newton. So I've had a 25-year career of singing onstage professionally, and I've been able to do some acting. You never stop re-inventing yourself." Culp is also caregiver to her father, who is now in his 90s (but certainly doesn't look it!). She spent three years working in a show in Fredricksburg, Texas, near San Antonio. After that show closed, she says "I wanted to know what Dad wanted to do. And he was ready to come home" to Springfield. "And with him being in his 90s I wanted to be close to him." Actually, Culp says Branson was "the beginning of my development as an entertainer. I'd worked there for not quite 14 years. So it's 'home' to me."
Chelsea Odom, who was not present for this "Arts News" interview, is currently one of the featured performers in the "ABBA Tribute: Thank You For the Music" show at the Hamner Variety Theater in Branson.
Rebecca Taylor is originally from Kansas City and says she's not only working on this "Girls on Fire" project, but also sings at a couple of restaurants around Branson. "I've had a lot of training growing up and in college as well--lots of voice lessons. And I'm kind of learning to dance a little bit more these days!"
Not only dancing. According to Nedgra Culp, among the "sort-of requirements" the "Girls on Fire" group impose on themselves is learning to play a musical instrument. "So I've picked up learning how to play the acoustic (guitar). Rebecca's supposed to pick up the piano."
"Girls on Fire" isn't just a one-off for Springfield Contemporary Theatre's concert series, either. The three women plan on making it a long-term production, and they have other performance dates coming up. To find out what they have coming up, visit the "Girls on Fire" page on Facebook. "You'll find some funny stuff on the page, too!" promises Nedgra Culp.
Again, the original Sunday date (Feb.19) is sold out, and seats are apparently going fast for the added performance on Thursday Feb.23 at 7:00pm at SCT Center Stage. Tickets range from $8-$15. For information visit www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org or call 831-8001.