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The cast of a previous production of "Front Page News," detailing the events of the historic Scopes Trial.
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Randy Waller and the Country Gentlemen will perform during the opening weekend of the Scopes Trial Festival in Dayton, Tenn. Their performance is set for noon Saturday, July 16, on the Rhea County Courthouse lawn.

If you go

› What: “Front Page News” performances.

› When: 5 p.m. Friday, July 15; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, July 16 and 23; 3 p.m. Sundays, July 17 and 24. Related festival activities throughout the weekend.

› Where: Rhea County Courthouse, 100 Market St., Dayton, Tenn.

› Admission: $25 adults, $23 seniors, $12 children.

› Phone: 931-484-5000.

› Website: www.ccplayhouse.com.

Special guests

› Nancy Rose and Lisa Rennegarbe: Two of John Scopes’ grandnieces will travel from Bowling Green, Ky., to talk with guests, particularly about a display of news photographs taken during the trial. The women remember their great-uncle from family gatherings during their childhood. Historical accounts report that Scopes became very private after the trial, and they’ll shed light on the famous defendant.

› Jerry Tompkins: Editor of “D-Days at Dayton: Reflections on the Scopes Trial,” collected essays from lawyers and scientists at the trial.

› Randy Moore: Author of “The Scopes Monkey Trial” and the soon-to-be-released “A Field Guide to the Scopes Trial.” Moore is a biology professor at the University of Minnesota who has documented historic locations and “the rest of the story” about individuals involved with the trial.

› Susan Epperson: The former Little Rock Central High School biology teacher challenged the constitutionality of an Arkansas law prohibiting teaching evolution in public schools — and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968.

Source: Cumberland County Playhouse and Scopes Trial Festival

The Tennessee trial that enraged and engaged a nation started as a lark, a fun way to get tourists into Dayton.

Town fathers arranged a trial to test a state law forbidding evolution in state-funded schools. A young teacher named John Scopes volunteered to become the defendant by teaching his class evolution. A well-connected minister persuaded former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan to argue for the anti-evolution law.

But the coup was convincing world-famous defense attorney Clarence Darrow to represent Scopes. Darrow was known for speeches so brilliant that juries fell in love with him even when he was asking they forgo the death penalty for a pair of spree killers.

Dayton was hoping for a decent crowd. Back in 1925, highways were mostly nonexistent or awful. A road trip to Dayton was a tricky feat for most Americans.

The astonishing spectacle that ensued is the subject of "Front Page News," a musical version of trial events co-produced by the Scopes Trial Festival and the Cumberland County Playhouse. The production will be presented over the next two weekends, July 15-17 and July 23-24, in the historic Rhea County Courthouse, where the actual trial was argued. The same floorboards, jury box, tables and chairs where Bryan, Darrow and Scopes commanded worldwide attention are all intact and ready to be play props.

"The town fathers never expected their little publicity stunt of a trial to explode," says Cumberland County Playhouse spokesman John Fionte.

This may be the rare time the word "explode" is an understatement. The trial was quickly dubbed the Scopes Monkey Trial after Bryan bemoaned that evolution taught men were descended from overseas monkeys, "not even American monkeys." Darrow launched an attack on literal interpretations of the Bible.

"Hundreds of visitors flooded into Dayton for the trial," Fionte says. "Revival tents were pitched outside the courthouse. Church choirs sang on the lawn. Radio stations broadcast inside the courtroom so a national audience could follow the trial. Famous journalists were sent to cover the trial."

Baltimore Sun journalist H.L. Mencken — still renowned for his acidic wit — had a front-row seat. His juicy role is played by Nigel Chadwick.

The festival will unfold right outside the courthouse both weekends, with a majority of events on opening weekend. Music on the lawn and 1920s-style photo booths are scheduled all five days. Saturday, July 16, also features a Scopes Scavenger Hunt, quilt show, classic car cruise-in and antique tractor show.

Opening weekend also includes visits by two of Scopes' grandnieces. Nancy Rose and Lisa Rennegarbe, of Bowling Green, Ky., will share their memories of Scopes with guests during an exhibition of news photographs taken during the trial.

Other guests include two authors who have written or edited books about the trial and a former Arkansas biology teacher who challenged a state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools in the 1960s.

The show is directed by Jim Crabtree who Fionte says has revised parts of the play. Songs by top Nashville songwriter Bobby Taylor punctuate the script by Deborah Harbin, which takes arguments and testimony from trial transcripts. The cast includes George Miller as Bryan and Rick Dye as Darrow.

"The play also focuses on Scopes and what it's like for a shy, normal guy to find his life caught in an international media frenzy — even before the internet and social media," Fionte says.

Contact Lynda Edwards at ledwards@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6391.

Lead Cast Members

Storyteller: Bobby Taylor

John Scopes: Ben Ramsey

Clarence Darrow: Rick Dye

William Jennings Bryan: George Miller

Tennessee District Attorney General Tom Stewart: David Tromanhauser

Attorney Sue K. Hicks: Larry Lively

Attorney John Neal: Dan Young

Journalist H.L. Mencken: Nigel Chadwick

Scopes Festival events

Note: All events are free unless otherwise noted; most take place inside or on the lawn of the Rhea County Courthouse, 100 Market St., Dayton, Tenn.

Friday, July 15
Afternoon. Exhibits and vendors on the lawn

5 p.m. Music on the lawn

6 p.m. 1920s-style selfie photo booth, Red Hatters booth

7:30 p.m. “Front Page News,” Circuit Courtroom (tickets required)

Saturday, July 16
9:30 a.m. Scopes Scavenger Hunt, register at Rhea Heritage Preservation Foundation tent

10 a.m. Historic photo exhibit, General Sessions Courtroom

Quilt show, first floor, courthouse

Classic car cruise-in, Second Avenue

Antique tractor show, lawn

Music, exhibits and vendors on the lawn

Book signing, “Field Guide to the Scopes Trial” and “The Monkey Trial” at photo exhibit and throughout the day at the RHPF tent

Noon. Randy Waller concert, lawn

1 p.m. 1920s-style selfie photo booth, Red Hatters booth

2:30 p.m. “Front Page News,” Circuit Courtroom (tickets required)

5 p.m. Charleston dance demo and contest, Centennial Park

6 p.m. 1920s-style selfie photo booth, Red Hatters booth

7:30 p.m. “Front Page News,” Circuit Courtroom (tickets required)

Sunday, July 17
Noon. Music, exhibits and vendors on the lawn

Book signing, “Field Guide to the Scopes Trial” and “The Monkey Trial,” RHPF tent

2 p.m. 1920s-style selfie photo booth, Red Hatters booth

2:30 p.m. “Front Page News,” Circuit Courtroom (tickets required)

Saturday, July 23
11 a.m. Music, exhibits, vendors on the lawn

1 p.m. 1920s-style selfie photo booth, Red Hatters’ booth

2:30 p.m. “Front Page News,” Circuit Courtroom (tickets required)

5 p.m. Charleston dance demo and contest, Centennial Park

6 p.m. 1920s-style selfie photo booth, Red Hatters booth

7:30 p.m. “Front Page News,” Circuit Courtroom (tickets required)

Sunday, July 24
Noon. Music by Lon Eldridge, exhibits and vendors on the lawn

2 p.m. 1920s-style selfie photo booth, Red Hatters booth

2:30 p.m. “Front Page News,” Circuit Courtroom (tickets required)

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