Category Archives: Dance

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: A CHORUS LINE on the UALR stage

IMG_0274In April 1975 A Chorus Line premiered Off Broadway before transferring to Broadway in July 1975. In 1976, it became only the fifth musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Whereas the composer of the first musical to win the Pulitzer was not honored (apparently because he only wrote music, not actual words), with A Chorus Line’s citation, the Pulitzers recognized not only librettists James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, lyricist Edward Kleban, and composer Marvin Hamlisch, but also Michael Bennett who conceived the project and steered its development.

In October 1985, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock became one of the first non-professional organizations to ever perform  A Chorus Line.  The theatre department was planning on producing Chicago, but dropped that show when rights for A Chorus Line became available.  (Chicago was on Broadway at the same time as A Chorus Line and was often overshadowed by it.)

In preparation for the show, UALR (as it was then known) conducted a dance workshop in August 1985 conducted by alum Kerry Kennedy, who had appeared in the national and international tours of the show.  After the workshop, auditions were held and the rehearsal process started.

Many familiar names in the Little Rock theatre scene from the 1970s to the present were involved in A Chorus Line.  The production was directed by Carolyn Curry, choreographed by Dot Callanen, and music directed by Lori Loree.  Jay Jagim provided the scenic and lighting design, while Joy Breckenridge was costume designer.

The cast was led by Tom Crone as Zach, the director of the show within the show, and Janet Ford as Cassie.  Other performers included Lee Borchert, Sara Cole, Missy Cook, Greg Donaldson, Jo Bocage Few, Dennis Glasscock, Leslie Hall (who joined the cast two weeks before opening), John Hartman, William R Holloway, Shawn Lynnette Jackson, Traci Presley, Joey Stocks, Allison Streepey, Joe Terry, Kevin Trippe, and Scarlet White.

Rounding out the company were Paula A. Barr, Kelly Bascue, Melanie Cameron, Caran Curry, Leigh Anne Embrey, James Finch, Tijuana McKnight, Leah McSpadden, Rick Riley, Karissa Rushing, and Curtis B. Tate.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

Advertisements

Little Rock Look Back: OKLAHOMA! first comes to LR

OkLRbill
Program cover from OKLAHOMA!’s February 1948 visit to Little Rock. From the collection of Mary and Booker Worthen.

On March 31, 1943, Alfred Drake sauntered on the stage of Broadway’s St. James Theatre and sang “Oh, what a beautiful mornin'” to launch OKLAHOMA! into not only theatrical history but popular culture as well.

In February 1948, as the original Broadway run was about to mark five years on Broadway, the national tour of Oklahoma! made its way to Little Rock for eight performances. The week-long stay it had in Little Rock at Robinson Center was a record for that building that would last until Wicked came in 2010.  (Hello, Dolly! in 1966 and Beauty and the Beast in 2002 had both equalled the record.)

By the time Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s first show made it to Little Rock, they were working on their fourth stage show, South Pacific, which had a leading character from Little Rock.

To get Robinson Auditorium ready for Oklahoma!, the Auditorium Commission had to spend $2,000 on upgrades.  That would be the equivalent of just under $21,000 today.

Oklahoma! opened at Robinson on Monday, February 9, 1948.  With eight performances, approximately 24,000 tickets were on sale during the run of the show.  There was a cast of 67 actors and 28 musicians.  The cast was led by Ridge Bond, Carolyn Adair, Alfred Cibelli Jr., Patricia Englund, and David Morris.  Mr. Bond had relatives who lived in Little Rock.  He was a native of Claremore, Oklahoma, which was the town in which the story took place.

OkAdLR
Ad in ARKANSAS GAZETTE on February 8, 1948.

While they were in Little Rock, the stars of the show made an appearance at Reed Music on February 10.  The music store (located at 112 and 114 East 7th Street–across the street from the Donaghey Building) was promoting the sale of the Oklahoma! cast albums, sheet music, and recordings of songs from Oklahoma! by other singers.

Both the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat carried reviews of the show.  Another item, which appeared in the paper that week was a syndicated column which noted that the film rights for the show had been sold. It was speculated that the star would be Bing Crosby.  It would actually be 1955 before the film was made, and Mr. Crosby had no connection to that movie.  By the time it was made, the stars were Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.  Mr. MacRae would appear in Little Rock for the 1963 opening of the Arkansas Arts Center.  Ms. Jones has made several concert appearances in Little Rock over the years.

Little Rock had seen its fair share of top Broadway shows on tour.  Prior to Robinson’s opening and since then, many well-known actors and popular shows had played Little Rock.  But just as it had been on Broadway, Oklahoma! in Little Rock was more than a show — it was an event!

Over the years, Oklahoma! has been performed by schools, churches, community theatres, dinner theatres, and colleges.  National tours have come through Arkansas again.  People have become jaded or dismissive of it, because they have seen it performed so often — and sometimes badly.  So it is hard to understand the excitement that was felt by Little Rock audiences in 1948 when they first saw it on the stage of Robinson Center.

But 75 years later (and 25 years after it was commemorated by the US Postal Service with its own stamp), Oklahoma! is still doing fine.  Countless new generations sing the songs and say the lines.

Two upcoming cultural events in Little Rock are a testament to the genius that helped create Oklahoma!  In May, Ballet Arkansas will present a dance piece which was the final dance created by Agnes de Mille.  Before choreographing Oklahoma!, Miss de Mille was already making her mark in the world of ballet.  She alternated between the two for decades.  At the 1993 Tony Awards, Miss de Mille accepted a special Tony upon the show’s 50th anniversary milestone.

The second connection to Oklahoma! will take place in February 2019.  The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra is bringing Oscar “Andy” Hammerstein III, grandson of the beloved librettist and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, to host a celebration of some of America’s most cherished music from the stage.

Rock the Oscars: Fatima Robinson

Born in Little Rock, Robinson moved to Los Angeles at the age of four with her mother and two younger sisters.  Ultimately, however, Robinson’s love for dance would become the catalyst for dreams even bigger than she ever dared to dream.

She was the choreographer for the 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2016 Oscar ceremonies.  She also was the choreographer for the Oscar winning film version of Dreamgirls.

Her “big break” had come when film director John Singleton asked her to choreograph the video for Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” single. . After seven nominations, in 2004 she walked away with the MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography in a Music Video.  Fatima recently directed and choreographed Cee-Lo Green’s new Las Vegas show “Loberace,” and choreographed commercials for Nike and Heineken with director Rupert Sanders. Fatima also notably choreographed the 2011 Super Bowl Halftime show with the Black Eyed Peas, 2012 Coachella Tupac Hologram, HBO Inauguration event for President Barack Obama, and the Sony Pictures movie Sparkle,starring Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston.

In 2004, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Little Rock Look Back: Opening of Robinson Auditorium

robinson-auditorium-by-scott-carterOn February 16, 1940, after three years of planning and construction including several delays due to lack of funding, the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. It was a cold, rainy night, but those in attendance did not care.  (The concept of a municipal auditorium for Little Rock had first been raised in 1904, so this evening was truly a long time in the works.)

Searchlights painting arcs in the sky greeted attendees. They were borrowed from the Arkansas National Guard. Newspaper accounts noted that only a few of the men who attended were in tuxedos, most were simply in suits. The work to get the building opened had been so harried, that it was discovered there was not an Arkansas flag to fly in front of the building. Mayor Satterfield found one at the last minute courtesy of the Arkansas Department of the Spanish War Veterans.

The weather delayed arrivals, so the program started fifteen minutes late. Following a performance of Sibelius’ Finlandia by the fledgling Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra, Mayor J. V. Satterfield, Ewilda Robinson (the Senator’s widow), Emily Miller (the Senator’s sister-in-law and a member of the Auditorium Commission) and D. Hodson Lewis of the Chamber of Commerce participated in a brief ribbon cutting ceremony. Mrs Robinson cut the ribbon on her second attempt (once again proving that nothing connected with getting the building open was easy).

The ceremony was originally set to be outside of the building but was moved indoors due to the inclement weather. The ribbon cutting took place on the stage with the ribbon stretched out in front of the curtain. The opening remarks were broadcast on radio station KGHI.

Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon
Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon

Though he had previously discussed how he had voted against the auditorium in 1937 before entering public life, the mayor’s remarks that evening were appropriately gracious, statesmanlike and a testament to the effort he had invested to get it open upon becoming mayor. “We hope you have a very pleasant evening and hope further that it will be the first in a long series which you will enjoy in this, your auditorium.”

Tickets for the event, advertised as being tax exempt, were at four different pricing levels: $2.50, $2.00, $1.50 and $1.00.

The estimated attendance was 1700. Following the ribbon cutting, the main performance took place. The headliner for the grand opening was the San Francisco Opera Ballet accompanied by the new Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra). The featured soloist with the ballet was Zoe Dell Lantis who was billed as “The Most Photographed Miss at the San Francisco World’s Fair.”

Auditorium Commission chairman E. E. Beaumont, a local banker, noted that while event planners knew the evening of ballet and classical music would not appeal to everyone, it was intended to show the wide range of offerings that would be suitable in the new space.  Earlier in the week, children’s theatre performances had been offered to school groups through the auspices of the Junior League of Little Rock.

At the same time that the gala was going on upstairs in the music hall, a high school basketball double-header was taking place in the downstairs convention hall. North Little Rock lost to Beebe in the first game, while the Little Rock High School Tigers upset Pine Bluff in the marquee game.

Rock the Oscars: Mikhail Baryshnikov

On July 24, 1983, Mikhail Baryshnikov dance on the stage of Robinson Center under the auspices of Ballet Arkansas.   Nearing the end of his dancing career with American Ballet Theatre, he was leading a summer tour of the Southeast and Midwest US.

In the early spring of 1983, Ballet Arkansas was contacted to see if they would be interested in having him perform in Little Rock.  (The $60,000 sponsorship was paid completely by the ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT.) The performance was announced in April with tickets going on sale shortly thereafter.

Following Baryshnikov’s performance, he and his fellow dancers attended a reception at the Old State House Museum which was hosted by Governor and Mrs. Bill Clinton.

After dancing with the Mariinsky Ballet for several years, he defected to Canada while the ballet was performing there in 1974. He later came to the US to dance with American Ballet Theatre and later New York City Ballet. He returned to ABT in 1980 to take on the role of Artistic Director and continue dancing.  It was in this capacity that he visited Little Rock.

He received a 1977 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the ballet-themed film The Turning Point.

Baryshnikov would later be welcomed by the Clintons to the White House when he received a 2000 Kennedy Center Honors.

Arkansas Gives today from 8am to 8pm

If you are like me, you’ve been receiving notifications about Arkansas Gives Day for months.  Well, today is the day!  From 8am until 8pm, you can help grow the love for Arkansas’s nonprofit organizations by making a donation to the charity of your choice.  The event is sponsored by the Arkansas Community Foundation.

As a special incentive to give, each gift made through ArkansasGives on April 6, 2017, will be matched with additional bonus dollars; the more you give, the more bonus dollars your favorite charity will receive.

Nonprofit organizations and other tax-exempt charitable organizations may participate if they:

  • Are headquartered in Arkansas or have a base of operations in Arkansas.
  • Have 501(c)(3) tax exempt status under IRS code AND are qualified as a 509(a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) organization or as a private operating foundation.

The minimum amount is $25; there is no maximum amount you may give. You may designate up to 10 charities per transaction.

Accepted Forms of Payment: Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express credit cards online.
You will receive an email receipt of your gift; please retain it for tax purposes. Unless you choose to remain anonymous, your donor information will be sent to the nonprofits to which you give.

Here is a list of cultural organizations which offer services within the boundaries of the City of Little Rock.

 

There are MANY MANY MANY other worthy nonprofits which are participating. But since this is a culture blog, only the cultural institutions are listed.  But please consider visiting the website and perusing the entire list.

Little Rock Look Back: Opening of Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium

Robinson Auditorium
Robinson Auditorium

On February 16, 1940, after three years of planning and construction including several delays due to lack of funding, the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. It was a cold, rainy night, but those in attendance did not care.

Searchlights painting arcs in the sky greeted attendees. They were borrowed from the Arkansas National Guard. Newspaper accounts noted that only a few of the men who attended were in tuxedos, most were simply in suits. The work to get the building opened had been so harried, that it was discovered there was not an Arkansas Flag to fly in front of the building. Mayor Satterfield found one at the last minute courtesy of the Arkansas Department of the Spanish War Veterans.

The weather delayed arrivals, so the program started fifteen minutes late. Following a performance of Sibelius’ Finlandia by the fledgling Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra, Mayor J. V. Satterfield, Ewilda Robinson (the Senator’s widow), Emily Miller (the Senator’s sister-in-law and a member of the Auditorium Commission) and D. Hodson Lewis of the Chamber of Commerce participated in a brief ribbon cutting ceremony. Mrs Robinson cut the ribbon on her second attempt (once again proving that nothing connected with getting the building open was easy).

The ceremony was originally set to be outside of the building but was moved indoors due to the inclement weather. The ribbon cutting took place on the stage with the ribbon stretched out in front of the curtain. The opening remarks were broadcast on radio station KGHI.

Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon
Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon

Though he had previously discussed how he had voted against the auditorium in 1937 before entering public life, the mayor’s remarks that evening were appropriately gracious, statesmanlike and a testament to the effort he had invested to get it open upon becoming mayor. “We hope you have a very pleasant evening and hope further that it will be the first in a long series which you will enjoy in this, your auditorium.”

Tickets for the event, advertised as being tax exempt, were at four different pricing levels: $2.50, $2.00, $1.50 and $1.00.

The estimated attendance was 1700. Following the ribbon cutting, the main performance took place. The headliner for the grand opening was the San Francisco Opera Ballet accompanied by the new Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra). The featured soloist with the ballet was Zoe Dell Lantis who was billed as “The Most Photographed Miss at the San Francisco World’s Fair.”

At the same time that the gala was going on upstairs in the music hall, a high school basketball double-header was taking place in the downstairs convention hall. North Little Rock lost to Beebe in the first game, while the Little Rock High School Tigers upset Pine Bluff in the marquee game.