The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 31, 2013

Actress, singer-songwriter will perform with Johnstown Symphony

JOHNSTOWN — Whether it’s opera or Opry, Carrie Tillis is grand.

Tillis, daughter of Country Music Hall of Fame singer/songwriter Mel Tillis and sister to country singer Pam Tillis, will delight concertgoers as she joins Johnstown Symphony Orchestra for its “South and West of Broadway” concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Richland Township.

In spite of a Nashville twang in her voice, her path through the music business has led her to operatic roles, symphony performances and musical theater.

While Tillis has performed with her father and sister, she has always loved musical theater.

She is no stranger to the region.

Tillis, an actress and singer-songwriter, appeared in two musical productions at Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown in 2007 and 2008.

“From the time I spent at Mountain Playhouse, I got to know the region and found a wealth of friends there,” Tillis said. “I consider them lifelong friends, and returning to the area feels like a homecoming to me.”

The concert features bits of opera, Broadway and popular show tunes.

“I’m doing a lot of symphony work now, and I love those shows because it gives me a chance to shift through all the styles of music that make up who I am,” Tillis said.

With a resume that jumps from opera to Grand Ole Opry, Broadway to Branson, it seems as if Tillis has turned what could have been a serious identity crisis into a good thing.

And skeptics who once likened the idea of a Tillis being more than country to something like an Earnhardt studying ballet, stand corrected as this Tillis shifts gears through the many styles she loves.

While she has a true kinship to her family’s country roots, Tillis said she has had many musical influences in her life.

“I love big band music and jazz,” she said. “A true influence on me was the great Lena Horne, whose voice was smooth and second to none.”

Her appearance with the JSO will showcase Tillis’ versatility.

Music selections include the “Candide” overture, “Les Miserables,” “Chicago,” “Oklahoma!” “Mama Mia!” and “Strike Up the Band.”

“It is not a straight-up opera, but a mix that blends my southern and western affection for the American songbook of the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein,” Tillis said.

Maestro Istvan Jaray is looking forward to this concert because it pairs Tillis’ legendary voice with some of the most notable and recognizable Broadway tunes.

“When Ms. Tillis sings, she puts the story to music,” Jaray said. “There is so much great music in this concert and there is something for everyone to enjoy.”

While Tillis studied at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., where she earned a degree in musical theater and has done musicals ranging from “Showboat” and “42nd Street” to “The Who’s Tommy,” she also fell into what she calls the happy accident of singing opera.

“(Opera) is something that came out of leftfield for me,” she said. “Musical theater was my passion and is what I love, but I never imagined that coming from my background in country that I would pursue an opera career.”

Tillis called it a shock to her system but gave it her best shot.

“When performing with my family, doing theater and singing opera, I seem to have struck a happy balance,” she said.

Aside from sister, Pam, Tillis has three other sisters and a brother.

“My brother Sonny (Mel Tillis Jr.) is a tremendous songwriter and performs on the road with my father,” Tillis said.

Speaking of Mel Tillis, his daughter said he’s “80 years old going on 50.”

“He continues to tour and people just love him,” she said.

Symphony concerts may very well be the platform that sends Tillis into the wide recognition she has earned.

“It’s one of my favorite things to do,” Tillis said.

“There’s nothing more thrilling for me than presenting theatrical music while standing in front of a symphony orchestra.”

In concert

Who: Johnstown Symphony Orchestra.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Richland Township.

Tickets: $35, $30, $25 and $10.

Information: 535-6738.

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