Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


ANNIE (1982 version) at the Ron Robinson Theater tonight

Leapin’ Lizards, the John Huston-directed 1982 version of ANNIE is being shown on the big screen at the Ron Robinson Theater tonight.  The film starts at 7pm; admission is $5. 

Based on the 1977 Tony winning musical and the 1930s Harold Gray comic strip, the film stars Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, Raymond Thorne, and Geoffrey Holder. Playing the title role is Aileen Quinn.  

In the depths of the 1930’s, Annie is a fiery young orphan girl who must live in a miserable orphanage run by the tyrannical Miss Hannigan. Her seemingly hopeless situation changes dramatically when she is selected to spend a short time at the residence of the wealthy munitions industrialist, Oliver Warbucks. Quickly, she charms the hearts of the household staff but can Annie charm the seemingly cold-hearted Mr. Warbucks or discover what happened to her real parents? 


A Year Long Party for Arkansas Rep 40th Season

The 2015-2016 season is the 40th one for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. The audience gets the gifts.

The season kicks off with William Shakespeare’s Scottish play about the Thane of Cawdor and his wife Lady M. It will run September 11-27.

Next up is the Tony winning musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. This tuneful, witty musical with book by Rachek Sheinkin and songs by William Finn, will play from October 16 to November 8.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid will be the holiday show running from December 4 to January 3.  It will be a regional premiere of this musical featuring a book by Pulitzer and Tony winner Doug Wright and a score by the Oscar winning team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, with additional lyrics by Glenn Slater.

2016 will start off with another regional premiere–Peter and the Starcatcher.  This prequel to the Peter Pan stories is by Rick Elice. Though a play, it does have some songs by Wayne Barker and Elice.  This winner of  five Tony Awards will be on stage from January 15 to February 7.

The regional theatre premiere of The Bridges of Madison County will take place on the Arkansas Rep stage from April 8 to May 1.  This musical has a Tony winning score by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Pulitzer and Tony winner Marsha Norman.

The main stage season will conclude with a world premiere play Windfall.  Directed by Tony winner Jason Alexander, this comedy by Scooter Pietsch looks at greed among a group of office workers.  It will run from June 10 to 26.

The Rep also has three special offerings during the 2015-2016 year.

From February 11-14, Rebecca Wells, author of the “Ya-Ya Sisterhood” novels will present a one-woman show about the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

The Summer Musical Theatre Intensive production will be called Broken Wings and will play from March 1-12 of 2016.

From May 3-15 the Second City will return to Little Rock for Second City: Hooking Up. 

The Rep’s 40th season features comedy, tragedy and musicals spanning from Elizabethan times to world premieres.  It truly is a showcase of the Rep’s mission and the breadth and depth of the Rep’s commitment to bringing great stories to life for Little Rock audiences.


14ish Cultural Highlights of 2014

2014 was a busy year.  Here are 14 cultural highlights. In no particular order. Except maybe once in while.

The Rep's Bob Hupp and Catherine Hughes flank NEA Chair Jane Chu

The Rep’s Bob Hupp and Catherine Hughes flank NEA Chair Jane Chu

Dr. Jane Chu visits Arkansas. Former Arkadelphia resident Dr. Jane Chu was appointed as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. In October, she paid a visit to Little Rock and northwest Arkansas. While in the Rock, she participated in a discussion at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and toured the new Creative Corridor spaces under construction for the Rep, Ballet Arkansas and Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Chu was also the guest of honor at a reception hosted by the Arkansas Arts Council. While here, she had the chance to renew old friendships as well as make new ones.

Carroll Cloar exhibit at Arkansas Arts Center. The Arkansas Arts Center featured the works of Arkansas native Carroll Cloar. Much as the Biblical prophet who is ignored in his homeland, Cloar has long been better recognized outside of his native state.  The Cloar exhibit (which included a painting of future Little Rock mayor J. V. Satterfield playing football, a personal favorite of the LRCV) and the outreach by the AAC staff made great strides towards raising Arkansas’ consciousness about the works by the American treasure.

DSCF0011Robinson Center Music Hall closes for renovation. Opening in February 1940 as the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium, the City’s prime venue for performances and civic gatherings needed an external and internal facelift at 74. The building closed in July 2014 for a two year renovation which will see the reconfiguration of the performance and audience space in the music hall, the creation of a new special events venue overlooking the Arkansas River, and the restoration of this historic main lobby and front façade to 1940 appearance. During this closure tenants such as Ballet Arkansas, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Celebrity Attractions have temporarily relocated to other venues including the Pulaski Academy Connor Performing Arts Center and the Maumelle Performing Arts Center.

Ron Robinson Theater opens. Shortly before one Robinson closed, another opened.  The Central Arkansas Library System’s new Ron Robinson Theater opened. This multi-purpose venue has quickly become home to lectures (by the library, the Clinton School and others), films (in partnership with Arkansas Times, Little Rock Film Festival and others) and music (including the Arkansas Sounds series).  Named for famed Little Rock adman Ron Robinson, the public spaces pay tribute to his love of movies and music about Arkansas.

Music Music Music

  • As noted above, Arkansas Sounds has switched from a concentrated music festival to instead offering a variety of music styles and genres throughout the year at the new Ron Robinson Theatre. The music has ranged from Big Band to Klezmer to Country to Rock to Rap.  This is only one of the new music offerings in Little Rock.
  • South on Main completed its first full year of the weekly Local Live free music series sponsored by the Oxford American and Landers Fiat. South on Main also started a Jazz on Main series as well as increased their bookings of other musicians ranging from Rodney Block to Rodney Crowell.
  • Meanwhile, The Undercroft completed its first full year of (mainly) acoustic music offerings at the corner of Capitol and Scott Streets.

New Works of Art.

  • New sculptures were added to the Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden and Riverfront Park as well as the Bernice Gardens.
  • In what may be the first for any symphony in the US, the musicians of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra commissioned a new piece in honor of the ASO board of directors. The work, composed by Christopher Theofanidis, was entitled The Wind and Petit Jean.  It was well-received by audience and musicians alike.
  • Ballet Arkansas sponsored a choreography competition “Visions” which featured five choreographers competing to be selected for a full-scale commission.  The winner was Hilary Wolfley whose work will be seen at the spring Ballet Arkansas presentation.
  • Finally, in conjunction with the 175th anniversary of Christ Episcopal Church (the oldest church in Little Rock to be at its original location), a new choral piece was commissioned. Daniel E. Gawthrop’s “Haste the Day” premiered on December 7.

mod delaneyThe Tonight Show with Kevin Delaney. Because Jimmy Fallon is really just a big kid at heart, he wanted to include periodic “cool” science experiments when he took over the “Tonight Show.”  After being contacted by a producer of Fallon’s show and an audition process, the Museum of Discovery’s Kevin Delaney was booked to appear.  He debuted on May 5 performing experiment with Fallon and returned on November 7. When not a guest of NBC, Delaney performs the same types of “Awesome Science” experiments for tens of thousands of children and adults at the Museum of Discovery.

New Festival of Arts. Acansa, a new multi-discplinary, multi-venue arts festival, debuted this year in September.  Over a five day period, ACANSA Arts Festival brought together audiences and cultural resources to present unique and exciting visual and performing works which celebrate the unique influence of the south and champion excellence and innovation in artistry.  There was theatre, dance, instrumental music, choral music, puppetry and visual art.

14 14 4Gridiron Returns. The talk of the return of the Star Wars movie franchise was not the only welcome news of returns. Gridiron, the biennial attorney fundraiser which spoofs politics, current events, sports and everything that is “sacred” to the general populace, returned after a hiatus.  Once again this effort was under the watchful eye of producer Judge Mary McGowan, the creative leadership of Jana Beard, and the writing prowess of the anonymous committee.  As has been the case in the past, many of the targets of the show good-naturedly showed up and laughed along in the audience.

Sculptures Returned.  Gridiron was not the only welcome return. Earlier this year several sculptures were stolen from the Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden in Riverfront Park. After a media blitz about the theft, some people strolling through the park stumbled across a bag containing the missing sculptures. The pieces are in the process of being restored and will be reinstalled soon.

14 14 3Clinton Center turned 10.  Proving that you can come home again, quite a few of the people who were present for the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in 2004 showed up again in 2014 to take part in celebratory festivities.  Among events included several lectures; a day of service benefiting the Arkansas Food Bank; a barbecue picnic; and a concert featuring Nick Jonas, Kool & the Gang and others which was hosted by Kevin Spacey.  The Clinton School also celebrated 10 years of lectures and innovative programs.

Preservation Concentration – The Quapaw Quarter Association marked the 50th Spring Tour this year. The event was co-chaired by First Lady Ginger Beebe and lifestyle expert P. Allen Smith.  Later in the year, the QQA hosted its first Mid-Century architecture tour highlighting some of Little Rock’s buildings from this style. They ended the year with the news that they had purchased the William E. Woodruff House in east Little Rock. One of Little Rock’s oldest houses, it was built by the founder of the Arkansas Gazette.  They will shore up the building to try to ensure no further decay as the building is readied for its next phase.

Huzzahs

  • 14 14 2Reese Rowland, architect and principal at Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock, was named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, awarded to fewer than 4 percent of AIA members.
  • Little Rock native Will Trice earned his third Tony Award in three years, this time for producing All The Way, the Best Play of 2014. His previous Tonys were for Porgy and Bess (Musical Revival-2012) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Play Revival-2013).
  • Arkansas native and frequent Little Rock performer Al Green was one of the 2014 Kennedy Center Honorees.
  • Little Rock’s Creative Corridor continued to rack up honors. The UA’s Community Design Center, which includes faculty and staff members from the school, won a 2014 Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects for its work on the Creative Corridor, on which it collaborated with Marlon Blackwell Architect of Fayetteville. The project also received the American Society of Landscape Architects Honor Award for Analysis and Planning.

Transitions.

  • 14 14Sharon Priest, a longtime cultural advocate as a City Beautiful Commission member, Little Rock City Director, Little Rock Mayor and Arkansas Secretary of State announced her retirement after 12 years as Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.  Over the past dozen years, she has continued her cultural advocacy.
  • One of Priest’s successors as a member of the Little Rock City Board, Stacy Hurst, was named by Gov.-Elect Asa Hutchinson to be his choice to lead the Department of Arkansas Heritage. She will oversee seven agencies including three Little Rock museums: Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Old State House Museum and Historic Arkansas Museum.
  • Following the closure of Starving Artists Cafe, the weekly Tales from the South program (which originated from there) had to scramble to find a place.  After several weeks of a completely nomadic existence, it is now settling into a rotating list of locations. The Arkansas Arts Center’s Best Impressions restaurant has been designated a “permanent” site for the first Tuesday of each month.
  • The free outdoor Movies in the Park celebrated its 10th season this year. Founders Blake Rutherford, Heather Allmendinger and Ben Beaumont were honored at the start of the season.  A few weeks into the season, the series screened the film Frozen and set a new record for attendance by logging over 7,000 attendees.
  • After the closure of the Riverdale cinema in 2013, the space sat vacant.  In June 2014, Matt Smith moved the Market Street Cinema operations into the Riverdale space. He upgraded the equipment at Riverdale (which was also a vast improvement over the equipment at Market Street).  The new Riverdale 10 shows a mix of first-run blockbusters as well as the independent films for which Market Street had been beloved.
  • The Studio Theatre was launched adjacent to the new Lobby Bar in downtown Little Rock.  In addition to producing its own performances, it is also the new home of the Community Theatre of Little Rock and Precipice Theatre.
  • Weekend Theatre founder Ralph Hyman retired as the Artistic Director of that group. He will continue to direct productions from time to time.

 


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.


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.

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