Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Black History Month – John Legend at Robinson Center

john-legendOn September 26, 2009, John Legend headlined a concert at Robinson Center.

Born in Ohio, he graduated from high school at age 16 ranked number two in the class.  He attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia during college, he started performing shows–eventually playing gigs up and down the eastern seaboard.  In 2001, he started performing with Kanye West.  His debut solo album was released in 2004 and was certified gold.  It won the 2006 Grammy for Best R&B album.

In addition to his own work, he has been a much-sought after collaborator.  Between both ventures, he continued to pick up accolades and release hit songs and albums.  At the time he visited Little Rock, he was promoting the album Evolver.

Since his time in Little Rock, he has toured extensively, released more albums, and continued to tour.  He won the Oscar for Best Song for “Glory” from Selma.  Tonight, the film La La Land in which he appears, is nominated for several Academy Awards.


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Little Rock Look Back: And the Oscar goes to…”Nine from Little Rock”

AMPAS Nine from LROn April 5, 1965, the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject went to the film “Nine from Little Rock.”

Narrated by Jefferson Thomas, Charles Guggenheim’s documentary looks at the nine African-American students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Thomas, one of the students reflects on the state of race relations in the seven years that had elapsed (up to 1964).  The film also focuses on Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed.

Guggenheim both directed and co-wrote the film. The latter credit was shared with Shelby Storck, who also produced the film.   The film had been commissioned by George Stevens, Jr., for the United State Information Agency.

The Oscar that night was Guggenheim’s first of four.  His others would be for: 1968’s “Robert Kennedy Remembered” (Live Action Short), 1989’s “The Johnstown Flood” (Documentary Short) and 1994’s “A Time for Justice” (Documentary Short).  His son Davis Guggenheim won the Oscar for Documentary, Feature for An Inconvenient Truth.

The film was digitally restored by the Motion Picture Preservation Lab for the 50th anniversary of its win for Best Short Documentary at the 1965 Academy Awards.  It is available for purchase on DVD and can also be viewed in its entirety on YouTube


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Black History Month – Count Basie and Robinson Center

count-basieWilliam James “Count” Basie performed at Robinson Center throughout his career.  His first appearance was in the early days of the building, when it was known as Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  His last appearance was in the early 1980s.

Born in New Jersey, he grew up playing the piano.  He arrived in Harlem in the early 1920s and took part in the rise of jazz during the 1920s.  He split the decade between touring and playing in a variety of Harlem night spots.  In 1929, he relocated to Kansas City and became the pianist for Bennie Moten.  It was during this time that he started arranging for bands as well.  By 1936, Basie had his own band – Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm.  He also started introducing blues music into his sets.

In 1937, he moved back to New York.  It would be his base throughout the 1940s. Though he also started appearing in films starting in 1942.  He also started incorporating bebop into his music.  After World War II, he disbanded his Big Band and reformed with an orchestra.  He would lead this group until the early 1980s.

While an outstanding musician, he was also notable for his role as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. He was constantly experimenting.  When two of his tenor saxophonists were complaining, he split them and placed them on opposites of the band creating dueling tenor saxes. He also started incorporating flutes into his orchestra, introducing them into more popular music.

As a musical personality, he joined the ranks of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong in helping to break the color barrier. He was featured in movies and TV at time that segregation was still well in practice.

Over his career, Count Basie received nine Grammy awards and has four recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame.  He was a 1981 Kennedy Center Honors recipient, and received the Grammy Trustees Award in 1981 and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in 2002.


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Black History Month – Kristin Lewis & Christin-Marie Hill with Arkansas Symphony at Robinson Center

aso-mahler-soloTonight at Robinson Center, soprano Kristin Lewis and mezz-soprano Christin-Marie Hill will be soloists as the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra presents Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.  The concert will be repeated tomorrow.  Under the baton of Music Director Philip Mann, these two ladies and the ASO will be joined by combined choirs from UA Little Rock, UCA, Lyon College, Hendrix College and the Arkansas Chamber Singers.  Yesterday the two soloists hosted a Brown Bag Lunch at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center as a way for the community to meet them.

Kristin Lewis is a native of Little Rock.  A lyrico-spinto soprano lauded for her interpretations of Verdi heroines, she began her vocal studies at the University of Central Arkansas under the guidance of Dr. Martha Antolik. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree, she continued with her Master of Music studies at the University of Tennessee with Ms. Kay Paschal and Mr. Andrew Wentzel. Her postgraduate instruction was led by Dr. Jonathan Retzlaff. She currently lives in Vienna, Austria, and is a student of Carol Byers.

A recipient of many honors, Ms. Lewis was recently awarded the 2015 College of Arts and Sciences Divisional Achievement Award for the Visual and Performing Arts from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She was awarded the Orazio Tosi Prize 2012, given by the Club Lirica Parma, at the birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi. Ms. Lewis was named the 2010 recipient of the Artist of the Year Award by the Savonlinna Opera Festival. In addition, she was voted a 2010 recipient of the coveted “Oscars of the Opera” by the Foundation of Verona for the Arena. She is a two-time National Finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition. She has also been a finalist of the “XLVI Concours International de Chant de la Ville de Toulouse”, a winner of the “Internationalen Gesangswettbewerb Ferruccio Tagliavini” and a winner of the “Concorso Internazionale Di Musica Gian Battista Viotti”. Ms. Lewis also won the Opera Prize and the Audience Award in the “Concorso Internationale di Canto Debutto A Meran.  In 2015, she made her Carnegie Hall debut as a soloist with Mahler’s Second Symphony.

Christin-Marie Hill previously sang with the ASO in Verdi’s Messa de Requieum and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.  Career highlights  include singing with the Minnesota Opera, Oper Frankfurt, Carnegie Hall, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Kansas Opera Theater, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Tanglewood Festival, and as a soloist with the Mark Morris Dance Company.  An avid concert and oratorio soloist, Ms. Hill’s extensive list of concert credits include appearances with the Memphis Symphony, Richmond Symphony, Utah Festival Opera Orchestra, and Atlanta Symphony.

A native of Evanston, Illinois, her distinctions include a fellowship in voice from the University of Illinois as well as career grants from the San Francisco Opera, the Rislov Foundation, the Kaplan Foundation, and the 2005 Elardo International Opera Competition. Ms. Hill holds bachelor’s degrees in French literature and sociology, and a master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Illinois.


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Black History Month – Dave Chappelle at Robinson Center

davechappelleOn June 13, 2012, comedian Dave Chappelle appeared at Robinson Center as he was just starting to emerge from a several year self-imposed hiatus.  The night before the Little Rock stint, he had appeared in Memphis.

Lindsey Millar wrote a review of Chappelle’s show which is available here (and has been referenced elsewhere as others scratched their heads from his appearances at other places).  A YouTube video shows Chappelle reacting to the crowd at Robinson calling the Hogs.  He was amused/confused.

Born in Washington DC to two academics, he was raised in Maryland.  He graduated from Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where he studied theatre.  He then moved to New York City to pursue a career as a comedian.  He also started acting in movies and toured as an opening act for Aretha Franklin.  As his profile rose, he started making appearances in TV shows and movies in addition to performing stand up.

In 2003, he launched the “Chappelle’s Show” on Comedy Central.  After two successful seasons, he walked off the set during planning for a third season, which cost him a $50 million contract.

From 2006 to 2013, he made a few appearances in stand-up shows and gave a few interviews.  But most of the time he kept a low profile.  Since 2013, he has slowly started making more appearances. In 2014, he appeared on TV programs to promote a Radio City Music Hall appearance.  He also acted in the 2015 film Chi-Raq.  In November 2016, he hosted “Saturday Night Live.”

 


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Comedies, Dramas and Musicals mark the 2017-18 season at Arkansas Rep

ark repA Southern story that is a favorite, a modern take on a classic comedy, a new musical based on a timeless Christmas tale, a contemporary drama of familial relationships, a joyous romp of a musical, a darkly comic tale of manners (without the manners), and a biting look at the madness of the holidays compose the 42nd season of the Arkansas Rep!

Under the leadership of new Producing Artistic Director John Miller-Stephany, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, the state’s largest nonprofit professional theatre, announced its 2017-18 Season.

Beginning in August, the new season exemplifies The Rep’s mission of producing diverse work of the highest artistic standards for its Arkansas audience.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Aug. 23 – Sept. 10, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017
By Rebecca Gilman | Based on the novel by Carson McCullers
Directed by John Miller-Stephany

Based on Carson McCullers’ celebrated debut novel, this haunting Southern drama tells the story of a handful of misfits in a 1930s Georgia mill town. Deaf-mute John Singer becomes confidant and confessor to four of the town’s most colorful eccentrics, forever changing their lives by his sympathetic and gentle presence. Rebecca Gilman’s poignant adaptation for the stage captures all of the loss and longing of the original novel and combines it with a graceful theatricality.

 

The School for Lies
Oct. 11 – 29, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017
By David Ives | Adapted from The Misanthrope by Molière

Based upon Molière’s classic 17th Century comedy, The Misanthrope, The School for Lies feels surprisingly relevant as it exposes the hypocrisies of polite high society with a sharp wit and even sharper observations about human nature. Comic master David Ives (All in the Timing, Venus in Fur, Is He Dead?) adapts this wicked farce for contemporary audiences, contrasting the high-brow characters with low-brow humor and employing present-day language that breathes fresh air into this rollicking satire.

 

The Gift of the Magi
Nov. 29 – Dec. 24, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017
A new musical by Jeffrey Hatcher, Maggie-Kate Coleman and Andrew Cooke
Directed by John Miller-Stephany

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre is proud to present the world premiere of a new chamber musical based upon O. Henry’s beloved holiday story. Unwrap a new tradition in this tender tale of love and sacrifice, told with fresh intimacy on The Rep stage. Acclaimed playwright Jeffrey Hatcher (Compleat Female Stage Beauty, Tuesdays with Morrie, Three Viewings) is joined by composer Andrew Cooke and 2017 Jonathan Larson Grant recipient Maggie-Kate Coleman (lyricist).

 

The Call
Jan. 24 – Feb. 11, 2018; Opening Night on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018
By Tanya Barfield

Annie and Peter are a childless couple in their late 30s who have decided to adopt a baby from Africa. But when they receive some surprising news about their potential bundle of joy, anxiety and doubt threaten to tear their world apart. Middle-class cultural sensibilities and global divisions come crashing in on their comfortable existence as they are forced to confront their own preconceived notions about what makes a family a family. As they reach out to friends and neighbors for advice, Annie and Peter become mired in indecision and second thoughts.

 

Mamma Mia!
March 14 – April 8, 2018; Opening Night on Friday, March 16, 2018
Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
Some songs with Stif Anderson | Additional material by Martin Koch
Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed by John Miller-Stephany

Young bride-to-be Sophie desperately wants her father to walk her down the aisle. But there’s a catch – she’s not sure which of her mother’s old flames is “the one.” So, she invites all three, hoping she’ll learn the truth, which unleashes an out-of-control flood of memories – and irresistible pop music – into all of their lives.

 

God of Carnage
June 6 – 24, 2018; Opening Night on Friday, June 8, 2018
By Yasmina Reza | Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker

A simple playground scuffle between their young sons thrusts two sets of affluent parents into an uproarious maelstrom of epic proportions. As they meet to provide a positive example of conflict resolution, what begins as a civil conversation over cocktails and canapés soon devolves into a juvenile war of words and unexpected ferocity.   Winner of three Tony Awards, including Best Play, God of Carnage is a contemporary comedy of manners – minus the manners. From the fertile imagination of playwright Yasmina Reza (Art) comes this hilarious and terrifying descent into the heart of darkness – a searingly dark comedy for uncertain times.

 

PRODUCTION AT THE BLACK BOX THEATRE, The Rep Annex, 518 Main Street
New this Season, The Rep will run concurrent productions throughout the Christmas holiday. With the productions running on different stages and at staggered curtain times, patrons are encouraged to see both productions back-to-back.

 

The Santaland Diaries
Dec. 6 – 24, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017
By David Sedaris

Crumpet is just your average department store Christmas Elf. He’s your average, every day, chain-smoking, martini-swilling, foul-mouthed, Santa-denying department store Christmas Elf. What starts out as a mundane seasonal job to pay the bills becomes a darkly absurd quest through the grey and slush-filled streets of New York City at Christmastime. If the holidays make you feel more like Scrooge than Cratchit, more Grinch than Cindy Lou Who, more Abominable Snow Monster than Rudolph, then The Santaland Diaries is the perfect show for you!

 

Season Subscriptions are on sale now and start at $132, making subscribing to The Rep the most economical way to see all of the productions included in the 2017-18 Season.

 

For more information on Season Subscriptions, call The Rep’s Box Office at (501) 378-0405, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., or visit http://www.TheRep.org.


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Black History Month – Maya Angelou and Robinson Center

1414mayaOn February 23, 1998, Maya Angelou appeared with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in a concert at Robinson Center.  The evening featured Dr. Angelou narrating Joseph Schwantner’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “New Morning for the World.”

Dr. Angelou, a former resident of Stamps, Arkansas, was not a stranger to Little Rock. She had appeared before at Wildwood Park and would later appear at the Clinton Presidential Center.

A former Poet Laureate of the United States and Tony nominated actor, she won a Grammy Award for her reading of “On the Pulse of the Morning” which had been written for the first inauguration of Bill Clinton as President of the United States.

A poet, author, educator, dancer, singer, actor, and activist, she wrote seven autobiographies. The most notable was arguably I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  Born in St. Louis, she spent part of her childhood in Arkansas before moving to California.  She led a peripatetic life both geographically and career-wise ending as a professor at Wake Forest and residing in North Carolina.  It was there that she died in May 2014.