Arts & Entertainment

Creative Cauldron Presents ‘Women of the Blues’ at ArtSpace Falls Church Through May 20

Creative Cauldron is joining forces with the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation to present “Women of the Blues,” an original blues music review celebrating the lives and music of some of the greatest blues divas of the 20th century.

Directed by internationally acclaimed musical theater artist Matt Conner, the show will take audiences on a soulful and sassy journey through some of the most memorable songs in the blues canon.

Performed by a powerhouse quartet of versatile female vocalists — Helen Hayes Award nominees Carolyn Cole and Ashleigh King, musical theater diva Shayla Simmons, and indie soul recording artist Tarina Szemzo — “Women of the Blues” runs Thursday through Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m. through May 20. Press Night is Saturday, May 5, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for students and seniors.

Carolyn Cole was seen most recently in Signature Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of “Hairspray.” She received a Helen Hayes Award nomination for her portrayal of the irrepressible teenager/dance show wannabe Tracey Turnblad. Cole has also appeared locally with the No Rules Theatre Company in “The Stephen Schwartz Project” (Soloist) and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (Lucy), and in touring productions of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond, and “Martha Speaks” (Martha). Her cabaret credits include Carolyn in the City and Monday Nights, New Voices, (at the Duplex) and An Evening with Carolyn Cole. She has also lent her voice to recordings, television trailers, ballgames and staged readings.

Ashley King was most recently seen as Dynamite in Signature Theatre’s production of Hairspray. She also understudied and took over the role of MotorMouth in the show during the final week of the run. King’s other Washington, D.C. area credits include the Kennedy Center; Brothers of the Knight, Pearl, Pepito’s Story, Dreams, Joffrey Ballet of Chicago’s The Nutcracker; Olney Theatre: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Grease, Hairspray, Aida, White Christmas, Cats, Damn Yankees, 42nd Street, Peter Pan South Pacific, Witness for the Prosecution, and Chicago.

Shayla Simmons has appeared locally at Toby’s Dinner Theater as Deena Jones in Dreamgirls, Pinkett in Happy Days New Musical, Nehebka in Aida, Stepmother in Into the Woods, Evillene in The Wiz, and in Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies, and as Aretha Franklin, Dina Ross, and Tina Turner, in Beehive. For the latter, Maryland Theatre Guide praised: “Shayla Simmons stops the show with Natural Woman” a song made famous by Aretha Franklin. Simmons is a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. In 2004, she received the regional NAACP ACT-SO award for Best Actress.

Tarina Szemzo is an indie soul recording artist, from Washington, D.C. by way of Hungary, who has created her own sound, fusing a variety of musical flavors. She spent most of her childhood mixing it up between the urban R&B/Hip Hop community and the quiet, laid back Hungarian countryside. Singing soul music finally became her passion, and she has performed at numerous D.C. venues including the Kennedy Center, the Old Post Office Pavilion, The Omni Shoreham Hotel and in a weekly gig at Stars. Szemzo has performed with The National Symphony Orchestra, and with Composer Marvin Hamlisch, and toured Europe with Indie musician Tibor Szemso. Szemzo has worked and recorded with such musical veterans as cellist Dave Eggar, guitarist Thad Debrock, pianist Daniel Minsteris, and cellist Colette Alexander.

Matt Conner has been a teaching artist with Creative Cauldron for the past 11 years. A versatile theater artist who is an accomplished composer, performer, and teacher, last fall, Conner made his professional directorial debut at Creative Cauldron with a Helen Hayes Awarded recommended production of Nevermore. Nevermore, an original musical based on the writings and poems of Edgar Allan Poe, was first produced to critical acclaim at Signature Theatre in 2006. In 2008, Matt was one of six composers to receive Signature’s American Musical Voices: The Next Generation award funded by the Shen Family Foundation. Conner’s composition The Hollow, an adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow opened Signature’s 2011-12 season.

Nikki Graves Henderson and The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation are collaborating on the production, providing blues history and anecdotes about the famous divas and music featured in the show. The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation is a non-profit organization with a mission to raise awareness of the contributions of African-Americans and other cultures to the development of Falls Church, Fairfax County, the United States and African descendants in the diaspora, by disseminating information and providing community services. In 2010 Creative Cauldron joined forces with THHF to create “Tinner Hill: Portraits in Black and White” an original work for the stage based on the stories of Falls Church’s early civil rights pioneers.

Creative Cauldron is a non-profit arts organization whose innovative programs in the performing and visual arts embody collaboration, experimentation and community engagement. Creative Cauldron was founded by Producing Director Laura Connors Hull in 2002. In June of 2009, Creative Cauldron acquired a permanent home in ArtSpace Falls Church, a 3,000 square foot flexible arts space that provides a venue for year-round classes, live performances of theater, music and dance and visual art exhibits. Programs are presented in part through grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Arts and the Arts Council of Fairfax County.

Tickets for Women of the Blues can be purchased on-line at or by calling 571-239-5288.