Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

Opening night on Broadway for LR native Will Trice as a producer of revival of YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU

YCTIWY bwayThree time Tony winner (and Little Rock native) Will Trice is heading back to Broadway this fall as a producer of an all-star revival of the Pulitzer Prize winning comedy You Can’t Take It with You.  The show opens tonight

The cast will be led by two time Tony winner James Earl Jones.  The production will mark a reunion from the recent revival of The Best Man for Jones with actress Elizabeth Ashley and producers Jeffrey Richards and Trice.

The Little Rock Central alum has won a Tony for each of the past three seasons. This marks the first project for the Trice for the 2014-2015 season.

First performed on Broadway at the height of the Great Depression (in a Pulitzer Prize winning run), it has not been revived on Broadway since 1983.  You Can’t Take It with You, by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, celebrates the American spirit as well as spirited family life.  Others in the cast, which is to be directed by multiple Tony nominee Scott Ellis, are Tony nominee Kristine Nielsen, Tony nominee Reg Rogers, Tony nominee Annaleigh Ashford, Theatre World winner Crystal A. Dickinson and stage veterans Byron Jennings and Julie Halston.

Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

Mark Linn-Baker, who has cut his teeth on both stage and TV, is also in the cast. Others in the show include Marc Damon Johnson and Patrick Kerr. Three time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown is composing music for the play.

Performances started at New York’s Longacre Theatre on August 26.

Trice’s Tony Awards came for the 2014 Best Play All the Way, 2013 Best Play Revival Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the 2012 Best Musical Revival Porgy and Bess.  He also received a nomination for 2012 Best Play Revival for The Best Man.  This past year, of the 26 Tony Awards presented, seven went to shows produced by Jeffrey Richards and Will Trice.

Opening night of MEMPHIS as Arkansas Rep kicks off 2014-2015

THEREP_MEMPHIS (no credits)-page-001A regional theatre premiere at Arkansas Rep, Memphis is a new musical with music and lyrics by David Bryan of Bon Jovi fame and lyrics and book by Joe DiPietro loosely based on Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music in the 1950s.

Appearing on Broadway from October 19, 2009 to August 5, 2012, Memphis garnered eight 2010 Tony Award nominations, and won four 2010 Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Orchestrations and Best Musical.

Set in the 1950s in the musically-rich Tennessee city, Memphis tells the story of a local DJ with a passion for R&B music and an up-and-coming singer that he meets one fateful night on Beale Street. As their careers rise, their relationship is challenged by personal ambition and the pressures and prejudice of the outside world.

From the first notes of its opening number “Underground” right up to a rousing finale called “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Memphis delivers one energetic song after the next, with electrifying singing and dancing along the way.

The production is directed and choreographed by Lynne Kurdziel-Formato.  Other members of the creative team include Mark Binns (music director), Mike Nichols (scenic designer), Rafael Colon Castanera and Mark Nagle (costume designers), Bill Webb (lighting designer), Allan Branson (sound designer), Lynda J. Kwallek (properties designer) and Rob Pickens (wig designer).

The cast is led by Brent DiRoma and Jasmin Richardson.  Others in the cast include Ann-Ngaire Martin, Bill Newhall, Tony Perry, Arthur L. Ross and Gregory L. Williams.  The cast also includes Katie Emerson, Ryan Farnsworth, Maris Kirby, Daniel McDonald, J. Nycole Ralph, Courtney Blackmun, Michele May Clark, Tatiana H. Green, DeCarl Jones, Chris McNiff, Gregory Omar Osborne, Shuan Repetto, James Roberts, Kyron Turner and Laura Leigh Turner.

Performances are at 7pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, 8pm on Friday and Saturday evenings and matinees on Sunday at 2pm.  The production runs through Sunday, September 28.

MEMPHIS at Arkansas Rep is focus of Clinton School Program today at noon

THEREP_MEMPHIS (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, September 4 at 12 noon at Sturgis Hall in Clinton Presidential Park.

Join Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp, Memphis Director Lynne Kurdziel-Formato, cast members Brent DiRoma and Jasmin Richardson, and author Marvin Schwartz for a panel discussion on this Tony Award-winning musical.


Memphis opens officially on Friday evening and runs through Sunday, September 28.

For Arkansas Rep’s MEMPHIS tonight, it is Pay What You Can night, presented by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

MemphisAs the Arkansas Rep kicks off 2014-2015 with Memphis, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette presents The Rep’s “Pay What You Can Night.”

Patrons can pay any amount they wish for their ticket.  Tickets must be purchased in person at the Box Office located at 601 Main Street the day of the performance. The Box Office will be open from 9 a.m. until curtain.  Tickets are limited to (2) two per person.  Offer is based on seating availability.

Kicking off Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s 2014-2015 MainStage Season is Memphis, an electrifying musical that bursts off the stage with explosive dancing, roof-raising rock ‘n’ roll and a thrilling tale of fame and forbidden love.  With high-energy music by David Bryan of Bon Jovi fame, this hard-hitting story of love is loosely based on Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs to play black music on the radio in the 1950s.

Winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the New York Times says Memphis “evokes the powerhouse funk of James Brown, the hot guitar riffs of Chuck Berry, the smooth harmonies of The Temptations, [and] the silken, bouncy pop of the great girl groups of the period.”

In the Beale Street nightclubs of 1950s Memphis simmers a new sound, born of the blues, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll and birthed in the Delta.  It takes a young white DJ, a white man in a black world, to catapult this new sound to the airwaves of Memphis radio and into the living rooms of white Memphis.  What follows is a love story that pushes the racial boundaries of the times and ignites a musical revolution that grips the entire country.

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE continues at Weekend Theater

Beauty-Queen_smThe Lortel and Tony winning dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane continues its run at the Weekend Theater tonight.

Written by Oscar winner Martin McDongah, this play is set in the mountains of Connemara County, Galway, Ireland and tells the darkly comic tale of Maureen Folan, a plain and lonely woman in her early forties, and Mag, her manipulative aging mother, whose interference in Maureen’s first and possibly final chance of a loving relationship sets in motion a train of events that leads inexorably towards the play’s terrifying dénouement.

Director, Deb Lewis, explains that she chose to direct The Beauty Queen of Leenane because, “It’s a very intriguing story; it touches people on a lot of emotional levels. Everybody has experienced some kind of abuse in their lives . . . this play will resonate with people. Abuse is sadly pervasive, and my hope is that through this story people will be more aware of what’s going on.”

“It’s got love, comedy, violence, tragedy, sex . . . There’s everything in this show. ” Explains actor Tommie Tinker. “It’s like a dark, absurdist thriller,” adds actor Jacob Sturgeon. In summing up the play and the struggles the characters face, actress Amy Young says, “No matter how bad things are, it can get worse.”

The cast features Amy Young, Elizabeth Reha, Tommie Tinker and Jacob Sturgeon.

The show plays at 7:30 tonight.  It will also be performed on Friday, September 5 and Saturday, September 6.

Three shows closing this weekend in Central Ark

Fiddler ACTTonight, Fiddler on the Roof continues at the Argenta Community Theatre.  It runs through Sunday evening.  Tickets range from $30 to $50.  Directed by Bob Hupp of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Fiddler on the Roof is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The show opened on Broadway in September 1964. Choreographers are Christen Burke Pitts and Kristof Waltermire, with Kurt Kennedy as music director.


Rent CTLRTwo other productions are closing this weekend.  Community Theatre of Little Rock’s Rent closes on Sunday at the new Studio Theatre space.  Winner of both the 1996 Pulitzer Prize and Tony for Best Musical, Jonathan Larsen’s musical is an updated version of La Boheme.  Directed by Frank O. Butler with music direction by Matthew Tatus, tickets for this production range from $8 to $18.


Next-to-Normal_smThe Weekend Theater’s Next to Normal, also a Pulitzer Prize winner, closes on Sunday, as well.  The story of a family dealing with the mother’s mental illness, it is both heart-wrenching and humorous.  Directed by Ralph Hyman, with music direction by Lori Isner, tickets range from $16 to $20.

Little Rock Look Back: Oscar Hammerstein II

OHIIOn July 12, 1895, Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein, better known as Oscar Hammerstein II was born. He spent his entire professional life working in the theatre.  One of the musicals he wrote was South Pacific, which featured a character from Little Rock.

In the source novel, Tales of the South Pacific, Forbush is from rural Arkansas.  When Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers and Joshua Logan were adapting it for the stage, they moved the character to Little Rock (or “Small Rock” as the French planter Emil De Becque mistakenly refers to it).

Little Rock is referred to throughout the show.  One song, “My Girl Back Home” contained musical references to Arkansas’ capitol city.  That song was cut before South Pacific opened on Broadway.  It was, however, included in the movie version.  It was also reinstated and included in the 2008 Broadway revival.

Mary Martin won a Tony for originating the role of Nellie Forbush on Broadway. One of the actors who succeeded her was Cloris Leachman. Kelli O’Hara received a Tony nomination in 2008 for the Broadway revival.

South Pacific became the second musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It also became the first winner of the Pulitzer for Drama to be based on another Pulitzer prize winner — James Michener won the Pulitzer for Tales of the South Pacific.

Hammerstein’s creation of a character from Little Rock caused problems when the show was being performed in late 1957 and for a few years after.  With the 1957 desegregation crisis still fresh in people’s memories, a show about a woman from Little Rock facing her own racial prejudices was sometimes a bit much for audiences. Apparently some audiences would boo when Little Rock was mentioned.  But Rodgers and Hammerstein did not change her hometown.

At the 1999 celebration marking the 50th anniversary of South Pacific opening on Broadway, a proclamation from then-Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey was read.  It paid tribute to Nellie Forbush as an ambassador (albeit fictional) for Little Rock. The proclamation noted that her optimism, forbearance and ability to change for the better were emblems of Little Rock.  Since these were attributes which Mr. Hammerstein himself exhibited, one suspects he would be pleased.

Hammerstein died in 1960 during the run of The Sound of Music (which like South Pacific starred Mary Martin).

For those wanting to see an Oscar Hammerstein II show on his birthday or during his birth month, South Pacific has just started a run in Benton at the Royal Players.


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