Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Leave a comment

12 Days of Christmas Movies: HOME ALONE & HOME ALONE 2: LOST IN NEW YORK

home aloneJohn Hughes’ Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York combine the spirit of Christmas with Hughes’ own brand of safe anarchy.

While the original 1990 movie is by far superior, the 1992 sequel still has its charms.  I refuse to consider anything after that because they only weaken the franchise.

These movies nicely balance slapstick with messages of redemption. But they don’t veer too far in one direction or another.

Macauley Culkin (whose aunt Bonnie Bedelia stars in two of my other favorite Christmas movies – Die Hard) is certainly a key reason for the success. He is neither cloying or obnoxious (or obnoxiously cloying).

While the adults are meant to be more cartoonish, they still keep the film grounded.  Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern have wonderful chemistry as the Wet Bandits.  John Heard’s slightly befuddled father is an apt foil for Catherine O’Hara’s intense mother. The latter displays much warmth when needed, as well.

John Candy turns in a fun cameo in the first film. If you blink, you may miss future Tony nominee and The Newsroom actress Hope Davis as a French ticket agent.  The second film loads up on supporting players from Oscar winner Brenda Fricker, Tony nominees Tim Curry and Dana Ivey, SNL’s Rob Schneider and even a cameo from The Donald.  Former movie song and dance man Eddie Bracken plays the NYC toy store owner.

These are light-hearted films which still make me laugh out loud.  They are certainly enjoyable any time of the year, but especially at Christmas.


Leave a comment

12 Days of Christmas Movies: THE BISHOP’S WIFE & THE PREACHER’S WIFE

the-bishops-wife-posterI will admit I have unique taste in movies veering from the ridiculous to the sublime.  This extends to my Christmas movie viewing.

It is not that I dislike It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story or Miracle on 34th Street, it is that they have become cliché. I long since tired of watching them.  Christmas movies should make me laugh, think, and/or feel.

In the final Twelve Days to Christmas, I’ll share my favorite Christmas movies. Some are designed to be Christmas movies, others simply take place at the Christmas season.  In a few instances, I feature two movies because they are linked to each other (doing so allowed me to include 5 more). They are largely in alphabetical order because I could not rank them.  The one exception is perhaps my favorite Christmas movie.

To get things started The Bishop’s Wife and The Preacher’s Wife.

I remember first seeing The Bishop’s Wife when I was a child visiting my grandparents at Christmas.  My uncle loved old movies so he would watch them a great deal.  Back then, there were only five cable stations and the 4 Arkansas broadcast stations (if you count AETN).  But there seemed to be more on TV worth watching then with fewer choices.  Anyway, I remember seeing this movie.

What’s not to love?  Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young?  Any movie with two future Oscar winners and Cary Grant has to be good.  Perhaps it was this movie that planted the seeds of Episcopalianism in my then-Baptist head.  There is much humor and heart in this movie, but it does not hit you over the head with its message.

It was remade as The Preacher’s Wife with Tony winners Denzel Washington and Courtney B. Vance, Tony nominee Loretta Devine and the incomparable Whitney Huston.  Yes, it is inferior to the original, but it is still fun to watch.


A Sparklejollytwinklejingley Show!

THEREP_ELF (no credits)-page-001The holidays are here. And if you need to get into the Christmas spirit, I suggest you buy, beg or bargain to get a ticket to see Buddy the Elf and his friends in the musical Elf which is playing at the Arkansas Rep through January 4.

This frothy, fun, friendly show has but one aim – to entertain.  And how it does succeed.

With a smart, witty, heart-filled book by Tony winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone, TV’s “Slings & Arrows”), the story works on several different levels. (Incidentally, Meehan takes a swipe at his other Christmas-NYC set musical Annie with a joke, while Martin seems to be aping The Drowsy Chaperone by having the story open with a man in a chair). The score by Tony nominees Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar (The Wedding Singer) ranges from toe-tapping to heartstring-pulling.

Elf is, of course, based upon the eponymously named film.  Disclaimer – I’ve not seen the movie.  I do not get Will Ferrell’s appeal, so steer clear of most movies starring him.  But love of the movie is not necessary to enjoy the stage musical. The book, score, cast and production values take the audience on a wild sleigh ride of holiday fun regardless of familiarity with the source material.

As Buddy the Elf, Ethan Paulini is a chief reason for the show’s appeal. He is rarely off stage, and somehow manages to keep a high level of energy throughout. His ebullient Buddy is both naïve and knowing. Whether singing, dancing or acting, he never overplays the part or goes for cheap laughs.  Through his performance, one believes that he really does charm his way into everyone’s hearts regardless of their age or gender.

As the object of Buddy’s affection, it is a joy to watch Alyssa Gorgone’s Jovie transform from guarded to glowing.  She deftly handled her songs and dances.  Gorgone and Paulini have a nice chemistry together as the court each other.

David Hess moves from blustery to boasting in his portrayal of Buddy’s dad.  Anna Lise Jensen is a delight as his long-suffering wife whose struggle to find her own place mirror’s Buddy’s quest.  As Buddy’s younger half-brother Price Clark is a joy to watch. He is neither precocious nor cloying. Instead, he is a believable kid who is concerned about his parents and is thrilled to have a new brother.

Tessa Faye stops the show as Deb the secretary as she comically aids Buddy and leads the office in a rousing production number. Kyron Turner and Tanner Wilson make the most of their scenes as harried employees hoping for a holiday miracle. J. B. Adams bookends the show as an avuncular, folksy Santa Claus.

From beleaguered New Yorkers to bored Macy’s elves to depressed Santas, the ensemble fill the stage with delightful characters. Hannah Eakin, Allison Stearns, Jason Samuel, Jimmy Kieffer, Anthony Bryant, Chris McNiff, Jack Doyle, Samantha Harrington, Tatiana H. Green, Marisa Kirby, Eric Mann, Kennedy Sample and Mary Katelin Ward have enough vigor, vim and verve to make the cast seem much larger than it actually is.

The elves are played by the younger members of the cast. These kids are having fun – and why not? They get to spend the show in two of the most magical settings imaginable: The North Pole and New York City at Christmas.  They very ably perform their production numbers and create memorable characters without stealing focus from Buddy and Santa.  Addison Dowdy, Gunner Gardner, Reagan Hodson, Anna Beth Jeane, Ethan Marbaise, Max McCurdy, Danny Phillips, Grace Pitts, Corbin Pitts, Niall Prochazka, Marisol Sela, and Madison Stolzer were welcome additions to the production.  Most of these performers are seasoned veterans of the Rep’s Summer Musical Theatre Intensive. They show that their talent works in the wintertime too.

Nicole Capri directed Elf with a light, comic touch. She neither glosses over nor smothers the audience with the heart in the show, she trusted her performers and the story to bring it out.  She keeps the show moving at a brisk pace while allowing for enough quiet moments that it does not seem frantic.  Marisa Kirby’s creative, crowd-pleasing choreography put the actors through their paces.  Together Capri and Kirby fashioned production numbers which allowed each performer to stand out as an individual character while still part of a seamless ensemble.

Elf’s magical world was ably served by Shelly Hall’s colorful costumes, Dan Kimble’s lighting, Allan Branson’s sound and Lynda J. Kwallek’s props.  One of the joys of the show is undoubtedly the songs. Credit for that goes largely to Mark Binns, the show’s musical director.  He leads the orchestra as they play the peppy, tuneful score. He also deserves credit for helping the actors maximize their sounds as they perform the songs while executing Kirby’s inventive choreography.

Though based on a 2000s movie, Elf is really a throwback to 1950s and 1960s workplace musicals. There are the buffoonly bullying boss, the comic-relief secretary, the dancing office boys and office girls, the disconnected wife and kids, and, of course, the outsider hero who saves the day and wins the heart of the leading lady. The show also offers dancing Santas, prancing elves, and a travelogue’s worth of New York City settings.

Elf doesn’t ask the audience to think too hard or to get wrapped up in cloying sentimentality. It merely wants to entertain as it allows the audience an escape from daily strife.

No matter your holiday of choice at this time of the year, the Rep is giving audiences a present with Elf!


ELF takes stage at Arkansas Rep through January 4

THEREP_ELF (no credits)-page-001The Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of the holiday musical Elf opens tonight for a run through January 4.

Adapted by Thomas Meehan (The Producers) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) from the popular 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, with a score by Tony®-nominated songwriting team of Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), Elf turns one of Hollywood’s most beloved holiday hits into a hilarious and heartwarming musical that towers above the rest.

When a young orphan who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts is raised in the North Pole, unaware that he is actually a human, his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities eventually cause him to face the truth. As he embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father and discover his true identity, Buddy strives to win over his new family and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.

The cast is led by Rep veteran Ethan Paulini as Buddy.  Others in the cast include J. B. Adams, Price Clark, Jack Doyle, Tessa Faye, Alyssa Gorgone, David Hess, Anna Lise Jensen, Jason Samuel, Anthony D. Bryant, Hannah Eakin, Samantha L. Harrington, Jimmy Kieffer, Marisa Kirby, Eric Mann, Chris McNiff, Allison Stearns, Kyron Turner, Tanner Ray Wilson, Tatiana H. Green, Kennedy Sample and Mary Katelin Ward.  The elves are played by Addison Rae Dowdy, Gunner Gardner, Reagan Hodson, Anna Beth Jeane, Ethan Marbaise, Max McCurdy, Danny Phillips, Corbin Pitts, Grace Pitts, Niall Prochazka, Marisol Sela and Madison Stolzer.

The creative team includes director Nicole Capri, music director Mark Binns, choreographer Marisa Kirby, costume designer Shelly Hall, sound designer Allan Branson, prop designer Lynda J. Kwallek and lighting designer Dan Kimble.


Don’t WAIT UNTIL the show is DARK – Final two performances of thriller at Arkansas Rep

THEREP_WAITUNTILDARK (no credits)-page-001Frederick Knott’s Tony-nominated thriller Wait Until Dark plays its final two performances today on the stage of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

This masterfully constructed tale of suspense will keep Rep audiences on the edge of their seat (but you still have to pay for the entire seat).

A sinister con man and two ex-convicts are about to meet their match. They have traced the location of a mysterious doll to the Greenwich Village apartment of Sam Hendrix and his wife, Susy. With murder afoot, a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, as Susy discovers the only way to play fair is to play by her rules.

The cast is composed entirely of Rep veterans. It includes Amy Hutchins (It’s a Wonderful Life), Nate Washburn (Henry V), Michael Stewart Allen (Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, Romeo & Juliet), Robert Ierardi (Clybourne Park), Craig Maravich (Death of a Salesman), Michael Lowe (Les Miserables, Hairspray), David Tennal (Clybourne Park, Les Miserables), Reagan Hodson (Because of Winn Dixie), and Ella Moody (White Christmas).

The production is directed by Robert Hupp. Others on the production team include Mike Nichols (set), Marianne Custer (costumes), Yael Lubetzky (lighting), Allan Branson (sound), Lynda J. Kwallek (props), and D. C. Wright (fight choreography).

Show times are 2pm and 7pm.


No Longer a Wait – WAIT UNTIL DARK opens tonight at Arkansas Rep

THEREP_WAITUNTILDARK (no credits)-page-001Frederick Knott’s Tony-nominated thriller Wait Until Dark opens tonight on the stage of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

This masterfully constructed tale of suspense will keep Rep audiences on the edge of their seat (but you still have to pay for the entire seat).

A sinister con man and two ex-convicts are about to meet their match. They have traced the location of a mysterious doll to the Greenwich Village apartment of Sam Hendrix and his wife, Susy. With murder afoot, a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, as Susy discovers the only way to play fair is to play by her rules.

The cast is composed entirely of Rep veterans. It includes Amy Hutchins (It’s a Wonderful Life), Nate Washburn (Henry V), Michael Stewart Allen (Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, Romeo & Juliet), Robert Ierardi (Clybourne Park), Craig Maravich (Death of a Salesman), Michael Lowe (Les Miserables, Hairspray), David Tennal (Clybourne Park, Les Miserables), Reagan Hodson (Because of Winn Dixie), and Ella Moody (White Christmas).

The production is directed by Robert Hupp. Others on the production team include Mike Nichols (set), Marianne Custer (costumes), Yael Lubetzky (lighting), Allan Branson (sound), Lynda J. Kwallek (props), and D. C. Wright (fight choreography).

The show runs through November 9th.  Show times are 7pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Sundays, 8pm on Friday and Saturday and 2pm on Sunday matinees.

 


WAIT UNTIL DARK at Arkansas Rep is focus of Clinton School lunchtime program today

THEREP_WAITUNTILDARK (no credits)-page-001The Arkansas Repertory Theatre works in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service to participate in the UACS’s Distinguished Speaker Series, hosting educational panel discussions on various Rep productions.

The latest in these takes place today, Thursday, October 23 at 12 noon at Sturgis Hall in Clinton Presidential Park.  It focuses on the Rep’s upcoming production of Wait Until Dark.

Written by Frederick Knott, Wait Until Dark was originally a play which inspired the 1967 Hollywood film of the same name.  The play and film garnered Tony, Golden Globe, and Academy Award nominations. In the story, a sinister con man and two ex-convicts are about to meet their match. They have traced the location of a mysterious doll to the Greenwich Village apartment of Sam Hendrix and his wife, Susy. With murder afoot, a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, as Susy discovers the only way to play fair is to play by her rules. A panel of those involved in the production will talk about what it’s like to bring this thrilling production to life.

Join members of the production team as they discuss this chilling play selected for the Halloween season.

Wait Until Dark opens officially on Friday evening and runs through Sunday, November 9.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,325 other followers