Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Robinson Redux – February

grand opening adHere are some of the highlights from the annals of the Robinson Center Music Hall nee Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  This entry looks at bookings from Februarys in years ending with an 0 or 5.

The building was officially dedicated on February 16, 1940.  A few days earlier a children’s theatre troupe had entertained school kids with a performance in the music hall.  Also that month high school basketball continued in the exhibition hall.  The month had kicked off with a much more glamorous event as the Movie Ball took place in the exhibition hall.

The year 1945 featured a ecumenical Christian Youth Rally on February 4, a concert featuring Tito Guizar on February 7, the operetta Blossom Time on February 8 and the long-running comedy Life with Father on February 19.   In 1950, Robinson’s offerings ran from the Grand Ole Opry featuring Hank Williams (February 5), to Dick Contino (February 8) to the magician Blackstone (February 10 & 11) as well as the opera Il Trovatore (February 15) and a recital featuring Mrs. Rece Price (February 21).

By the mid 1950s, the touring business was changing.  The only notable booking at Robinson in February 1955 was on February 20 as it featured the Duke of Paducah and a little known singer from Mississippi named Elvis Presley.  Five years later, Jackie Wilson and Jesse Belvin headlined a concert on February 5, 1960. The Venable Quartet and several other gospel groups performed on February 12 and the Beaux Arts Bal de Tete took place on February 19.  In 1965, Donald Voorhees and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra were in concert on February 21.

February 1970 showed much more activity.  Husband and wife Phil Ford and Mimi Hines starred in the national tour of I Do! I Do! on February 6 & 7. That show had been a hit on Broadway in the 1966-1967 season. Another hit from that season, Cabaret, played on February 19 & 20 with Tandy Cronyn starring.  In between, contralto Bernadette Greevy presented a recital.

Musician Jerry Jeff Walker performed at Robinson on February 23, 1975.  Earlier that month (February 19), the national tour of Pippin stopped by with Barry Williams (aka Greg Brady) in the title role.  Five years later, Ballet Arkansas welcomed Cynthia Gregory and Patrick Bissell in a performance on February 7, 1980. Later that month Mason Williams and his Bluegrass Band performed with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra on February 23.  The next two nights, a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar took the stage.

David Copperfield kicked off February 1985 with two shows on the 1st.  The next day the musical The Cotton Patch Gospel was performed.  Musican Carman performed on February 25.  In February 1990, Peabo Bryson and jazz extraordinaire Billy Mitchell shared the stage on February 22.

In 1995, the focus was on music.  There was “An Evening with John Bayless” on February 7 as part of the Greater Little Rock Community Concert Association.  On February 11, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra presented an evening of music of Rodgers & Hammerstein.  A few days later on February 17, various musical groups presented an evening of gospel music. The next night, Gladys Knight shook the house in a concert.  The month ended on February 28 with Nancy Griffith and the Blue Moon Orchestra. A February 8 concert with Della Reese was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

Five years later, highlights included a tour of Camelot on February 15 – 18, and a staged concert version of the opera La Boheme presented by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  In 2005, Kenny Loggins performed with the Arkansas Symphony on the 11 & 12. The ASO also presented an all Tchaikovsky concert with Jon Kimura Parker on piano.  Earlier in the month, President George W. Bush hosted a town hall forum on Social Security at Robinson Center.

In 2010, the ASO Valentine Pops concert featured Christiane Noll and Doug LaBrecque.  From February 16-18 STOMP rang out throughout Robinson.  The month ended on a more quieter note as the ASO and Philippe Quint presented the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius.


LR Cultural Touchstone: Jana Beard

BeardJana Beard has taught dance in the central Arkansas area for over 30 years and has been the owner and director of her own studio for over twenty of those years.

In addition to being committed to offering the highest quality of instruction and the opportunity to experience all forms of dance, she has enjoyed performing in many Arkansas Rep productions, including Sweet Charity, Guys and Dolls, Chicago, Good Woman of Setzuan, A Soldiers Tale, Evita and Into The Woods.

Jana attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville as a dance major, and while at UALR she performed in the productions of Cabaret and Pippin.  She has also been an instructor in the Theatre and Dance Department.

She has served for many years as director and choreographer for the bi-annual legal cast spoof The Gridiron (which returned this year after a hiatus) and has also served as the stage director for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas Spectacular.

A few years ago, Ballet Arkansas was on the brink of closing its doors.  Jana let the organization use space within her studio complex for offices, classes and rehearsals.  She sometimes served as the only staff member as the ballet was trying to regain its footing.  In addition, for several years she was the coordinator of The Nutcracker which was Ballet Arkansas’ only revenue source during the lean years.

Because of her lifeline, Ballet Arkansas is now poised to grow to heights never seen in the company’s history.  The move to Main Street, the new programming and statewide touring would not have been possible had Jana not offered a home when it needed it.

In addition, Jana choreographed high school musicals in which the Culture Vulture appeared in the 1980s.


Start Celebrating with CABARET

Argenta Community Theater's CabaretThe Argenta Community Theatre is inaugurating producing its own productions with the Tony winning Cabaret.  Unfortunately, if you don’t already have a ticket, you won’t be able to “come to the Cabaret” because this production has been sold out for over a week.

Cabaret, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1967, is a musical adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories” and John van Druten’s I Am a Camera.  It features a book by Joe Masteroff and score by John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Producer Vince Insalaco and director Robert Hupp have assembled a cast and creative team to transform the Argenta Community Theatre into the Kit Kat Klub.  The choreographers are Marisa Kirby and Christen Burke Pitts with Kurt Kennedy serving as musical director.

Kirby leads the cast as tragic heroine Sally Bowles. Cipher-like scribe Cliff Bradshaw is played by Michael Klucher.  Brandon Higdem is the leering MC of the Kit Kat Klub.  Also starring are Tricia Spione and Alan Rackley as a mismatched pair of older Germans struggling with their relationship in the midst of the onset of the Third Reich.

Others in the cast are David Weatherly, Jessica Smith, Carl Carter, Matt Morley, Kris Waltermire, Dylan Dugger, Sydney Ippolito, Emily Karnes, Bailey Lamb, RaeLeigh Narisi, Rachel Powell and Brittany “Sparkles” Rorie.

Insalaco hopes to produce a musical and a play at the Argenta Community Theatre each year.

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