July 1 marks the start of a new fiscal year for many (if not most) cultural organizations in Little Rock. The previous year has ended, hopefully in the black.
Just as a new calendar year does not automatically wipe away past problems (oh, if only), a new fiscal year does not erase past issues. But it does provide a new framework and new opportunities for moving forward.
So HAPPY FISCAL NEW YEAR. May FY 2018/2019 be the best year ever!
One of the presenters at Sunday’s 72nd Tony Awards is Mikhail Baryshnikov. Twenty-nine years ago, he himself was a 1989 Tony nominee for Actor in a Play (for playing a man-turned-cockroach in an adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
In 1985, Baryshnikov returned to Little Rock to perform again at Robinson Center under the auspices of Ballet Arkansas. He had performed here two years earlier, as well.
Among the dancers who joined him in the program was future Tony nominee Robert LaFosse. He would be nominated for a 1989 Tony as well. But he was up for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. Other dancers in the company were Cynthia Harvey, Susan Jaffe, Leslie Browne, Elaine Kudo, Cheryl Yeager, Amanda McKerrow, Deirdre Carberry, Bonnie Moore, Valerie Madonia, Ross Stretton, Peter Fonseca, Gil Boggs, John Gardner, and John Turjoman.
The company danced to pieces choreographed by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Marius Petipa, future Tony Award winner Twyla Tharp, Lisa de Ribere, and La Fosse. The music composers included George Gershwin, Jacques Offenbach, Frederic Chopin, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Hector Berlioz, as well as composers who wrote songs for Frank Sinatra.
While Ballet Arkansas did not have any dancers perform during the evening, the organization presented it and was able to receive the proceeds which exceeded the expenses. For several years in the 1980s, the Ballet would either commence or conclude their season with such an performance. In fact, the 1985 Baryshnikov program contained a promotion of a 1986 visit by Alvin Ailey’s dance company.
Whereas the 1983 Baryshnikov appearance had been sponsored by the Arkansas Democrat, this time, the rival Arkansas Gazette was the sponsor.
Guests can gain access to over 20 artist studios and cultural institutions that will open their doors and give you a firsthand look at their creative process. The lineup of studios visits includes artists working in the visual and performing arts, plus cultural institutions that will open their respective studios for guided tours and demonstrations.
The public can participate in FREE, self-guided tours of art-related studios, live-in/work studios and homes, galleries, schools, and other creative spaces. (Please note, some of the participating cultural institutions may have admission fees for specific exhibits.)
Referred to as a city-wide exhibition, Open Studios gives you unparalleled access to artists living and working in Little Rock. Studio visits are free and open to the public.
Artists who are unable to welcome the public into their studios will showcase their work at the Alternative Space hosted at the Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History and Art at 401 President Clinton Ave. A welcome station will also be set up there with maps of all the participating artists and information on them.
During Open Studios, the colorful “Open Studio” signs will alert you to Open Studio spaces.
Co-Op Art – 7509 Cantrell Rd (back side)
Creative Art Studio – 7509 Cantrell Rd (back side)
Jennifer Cox Coleman Fine Art – 2207 Hidden Valley Dr., Suite 203
Amanda Heinbockel – 1701 Louisiana St, Apt 2
The Little Rock Violin Shop – 316 E. 11th St.
McCafferty Academy of Irish Dance – 6805 W 12th Street, Suite D
Daniella Napolitano – 916 Scott St, Apt A
Jenn Perren Studio – 1701 Louisiana St, Apt 4
Catherine Rodgers Contemporary Art – 2207 Hidden Valley Dr., Suite 202
As previously scheduled, Ballet Arkansas will present its “Ballet Arkansas in Concert” the weekend of May 4 through 6 at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.
Though the Rep is suspending operations effective immediately, that is not altering the Ballet’s planned performances.
Join Ballet Arkansas as they present paramount works by international choreographers, excerpts from beloved classics, and a collaboration with world renowned Van Cliburn award winning pianist, Dr. Drew Mays.
Featuring works by TONY AWARD winner Agnes de Mille, TONY AWARD winner Christopher Wheeldon, and Michael Fothergill’s WORLD PREMIERE
Tickets for the Ballet are still available for purchase on the Rep’s website.
And don’t forget Ballet Arkansas presents DanceWorks this Saturday from 10am to 4pm at the studio on Main Street.
DanceWorks is a free event that celebrates the impact of dance and the arts in the Little Rock community. Join them for open dance classes in a variety of disciplines, stop in for an open rehearsal and chat with the Artistic Directors, and enjoy a preview of Ballet Arkansas In Concert: With Drew Mays and a new work by Company Artist Paul Tillman to conclude the event. Visit balletarkansas.org to learn more!
Open Dance Classes 10 am- 3 pm
Open Rehearsal and Informal Chat with the Artistic Directors 3-4pm
LIVE Performance 3:30pm!
*Colonial Wine & Spirits will be generously providing celebratory libations at the performance preview!
In 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.
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.
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.