Fan favoriteDriving Miss Daisy opens Jewel Box Theatre's season 

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When Chuck Tweed started working at Jewel Box Theatre nearly 39 years ago, there were only 239 season ticketholders.

“I’ve done shows where the actors onstage outnumbered the audience,” he said. “But I still think those three people had a wonderful time.”

During almost four decades with the theater company, Tweed has helped elevate Jewel Box from those humble beginnings.

With more than 2,500 season ticketholders and an increasingly diverse production roster, Jewel Box has developed a reputation as one of the city’s best outlets for local theater.

A large part of its success can be attributed to Tweed. The Jewel Box production director helped spearhead some of its biggest and boldest creative projects.

For instance, he recently allowed season ticketholders an opportunity to pick the opening show for the new season.

The result is Driving Miss Daisy, and it is set to play at Jewel Box Aug. 18-Sept. 11.

Written by Alfred Uhry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play follows a crotchety white Southern woman and her driver, a proud, soft-spoken black man, who develop a special bond that endures for 25 years. Bonnie Lanthripe stars as Daisy and Jon-Philip Olsen portrays her son, Boolie, in Jewel Box Theatre’s production.

“I love the premise of two people on opposite ends of the spectrum who come together by not only forming a friendship, but also a special love for each other that was unheard of back in 1948, when this takes place,” Tweed said. “It’s just an absolutely beautiful play about two people coming together out of respect for one another.”

‘Find humor’

Tweed noted that each production comes with its own set of challenges. Tweed has directed nearly everything from flashy musicals to intimate plays and perfected his approach to the material.

“What you want to do is not reinvent the wheel, necessarily, but figure out what you can bring to it,” he said. “My thing, which I always try and bring into a production, is trying to find humor no matter how dark the material is.”

Tweed doesn’t go out of his way to turn his art into slapstick comedy, but he certainly loves unearthing bits of comedy.

“There are always situations and things characters say that I think could be a little more light-hearted,” he said. “It’s a director’s job to add your own perspective, but you also don’t want to tread on what made the material so iconic in the first place. You stick to the source material but try and inject new life into it.”

That is especially necessary for Driving Miss Daisy, a staple of 20th-century theater that become even more renowned with the 1989 film adaptation starring Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy.

But if Tweed ever feels overwhelmed by the source material’s reputation and the audience’s familiarity with it, he doesn’t show it.

In fact, he welcomes the comfort it seems to bring.

“People absolutely love it, and seeing it at the Jewel Box Theatre will bring back memories whether you’ve seen the film, a national or even local production,” he said. “Watching Driving Miss Daisy is like putting your feet in a pair of warm, fuzzy slippers. You’ll get comfortable because you know it well, and you’ll leave smiling because you enjoyed a night embracing something so warm and welcoming.”

‘Nice little moments’

Audiences should feel grateful watching the finished project, Tweed said, as the production almost didn’t happen after a rather uneventful casting session.

“We had our first rehearsal already, and I don’t even have a Hoke,” Tweed said, referring to the titular driver in Driving Miss Daisy who’s featured in nearly every scene and plays a pivotal role.

A potential choice was unable to commit to the rehearsal schedule, another would’ve been absent for a show and one actor even dropped out because he didn’t feel comfortable performing the play’s era-specific dialect/language.

But after several sleepless nights, a frantic casting process and countless other road-bumps, Tweed is determined to deliver the best possible version of Driving Miss Daisy.

“This type of show is stunning and seeps under your skin because one is normally so used to the razzle-dazzle of the stage,” he said. “Instead, you get to enjoy these nice little moments and concentrate on the words.”

With Driving Miss Daisy set to open Aug. 18, Tweed also has the rest of Jewel Box’s season to look forward to.

With a slate of productions including Heaven Can Wait and South Pacific, a lot has changed since Tweed first stepped in to assist the fledgling theater so many years ago.

“I’m just so proud of where we started and where we’ve come after 39 years. It’s just nice to sit back and look at all of the wonderful things the actors, directors and board members have done here,” he said. “I get to play every single day, and who wouldn’t love a job like that?”

Print headline: Driving creativity, Jewel Box Theatre production director Chuck Tweed celebrates almost four decades with the company with a new season and Driving Miss Daisy.

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