31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1995’s THE RAINMAKER

N. Richard Nash’s romantic drama with comedy, The Rainmaker took over the Arkansas Rep stage in January and February 1995. Following the run in Little Rock, it toured the US through April of that year.

The production was directed by Rep founder and Artistic Director Cliff Fannin Baker. It reunited him with several long-time Rep actors Vivian Morrison, Ronald J. Aulgur, Steve Wilkerson, Richard Glover, and Mark Johnson.

Baker had previously directed Robert Standley in a production of the show, and brought him in to reprise his role as the title character.  Rounding out the cast was Rep newcomer John Stiritz.

The creative team included Mike Nichols (sets), Don Bolinger (costumes), David Neville (lighting) and Chip Salerno (sound).  Salerno also wrote and recorded the music which underscored the production.

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31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1989’s NOISES OFF

Michael Frayn’s three act satirical farce NOISES OFF pokes fun at the theatrical world.  This Tony nominated play within a play about the production of a British farce NOTHING ON took to the Arkansas Rep stage in June 1989.

Directed by Terry Sneed, the cast featured James Harbour as Nothing On’s director, and Theresa Quick as the leading lady.  Others in the cast were Vivian Morrison, Don Bolinger, Peter Bradshaw, Alan Hanson, Jane McNeill, Carolyn Pugh and Jon Meyer.

The first and third acts take place on the set of Nothing On in a house that was once a 16th century posset mill. The second act shows the backstage happenings during a performance.  The set (which rotated between acts) was designed by Nels Anderson.

The production ran from June 8 to 24, 1989.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: OVATION! in 1999

Upon his retirement (the first time) from Arkansas Rep, founder and artistic director Cliff Fannin Baker was feted with a special performance celebrating his career with the Rep.  The entire evening was called “Ovation!” and included a pre-performance reception, a special revue celebrating Cliff’s career, and a performance of As Bees in Honey Drown, which Cliff directed.

Ruth Shepherd and Helen Buchanan co-chaired the evening, which took place on September 21, 1999.  Jana Beard was involved in the conception and direction of the performance.

The program started with a welcome from Mimi Dortch, the first Rep Board chair; Bill Rector, a former Rep Board chair who had been instrumental in the move to the Rep’s Main Street location; and Carol Corley, who was the 1999-2000 Rep Board chair.

The performers included Michael Davis, Don Bolinger, Shannon Farmer, Vivian Morrison Norman, Candyce Hinkle, Debbie Rawn, Jana Beard, Debbie Weber, Mary Twedt Cantrell, Mark Johnson, Judy Blue., Jean Lind, and Phyllis Blumenfeld.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton sent a videotaped message that was played and followed by a video which highlighted Cliff’s career.  Lt. Governor Winthrop Rockefeller presented Cliff with the 1999 Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.  Also that evening, longtime Rep staffers Lynn Frazier and Guy Couch were presented with Cliff Fanning Baker Awards for extraordinary service to the Rep.

After a brief intermission, the evening continued with As Bees in Honey Drown. The show was directed by Cliff and was the final show of the Cliff Fannin Baker era (Part I).

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1982’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Scott Edmonds as Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens – from Developing Character at the Arkansas Rep 1983-1984 by Andrew Kilgore. Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection. Gift of Doyne and Margaret Dodd.There were plenty of Christmas carols during the 1982 Arkansas Rep production of A Christmas Carol. This was the first time, in the Rep’s seven Decembers of existence, that a holiday-themed show had been presented in December.

The production was directed by the Rep’s Artistic Associate Montgomery Kuklenski (who is now an entertainment executive in Los Angeles).  After Cliff Fannin Baker decided to produce a stage version of the Charles Dickens chestnut, Kuklenski read over a dozen versions before selecting one by Tom Markus.

Instead of taking place on the Rep’s stage, the production was mounted in the university theatre on the UALR campus.  (With a cast of nearly 40 actors and many special effects, it would have been difficult to produce this at the Rep’s home adjacent to MacArthur Park.)

Scott Edmonds played the title character with other parts being played by Dallas Miles, Jonathan Michaelson, Rebeccas Wilenski, Charles Hatchock, Larry Edwards, Peter White, Jay Kinney, Tommy Cherepski, Ted Eades, and Ronald J. Aulgur.

One of the reasons that the Markus version was selected was that it incorporated numerous Christmas carols into the script both as part of the action and as transitions between scenes. Sharon Douglas served as pianist and music director for the production.

The production ran from December 9 through 18 of 1982.

Several of the actors were captured in Mark Hughes’s costumes by Andrew Kilgore as part of his multi-season Developing Character black and white photo portrait series.  The Arkansas Arts Center has over twenty of these photos in its permanent collection.

The Rep also has many of these photos. As part of 2nd Friday Art Night, the Rep is displaying some of these photos in the lobby of the current building.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1988’s PAGEANT

While originally envisioned as a potential first show in the new Main Street home for Arkansas Rep, the world premiere of the musical PAGEANT took place instead at the Rep’s original home at 11th and McAlmont Streets.  (The new theatre space would not open until October 1988.)

Conceived by Cliff Fannin Baker (who would direct as well), this show featured a series of vignettes exploring a variety of aspects of beauty pageants – competing in them, watching them, having daughters in them, etc. The songs were all written by Michael Rice (who had previously composed The Good Woman of Setzuan at Arkansas Rep). The various scenarios in the libretto were authored by Baker, Jack Heifner, Romulus Linney, Kent R. Brown, Hank Bates, and Mary Rhode.

The seven women in the cast (who were on stage the entire time) were played by Kimberly Ann Cunningham, Brenda Kaye Westbrook, Mimmye Goode, Julianne Griffin, Karen Heck, Vivian Morrison, and Margaret Wyatt-Kinney.  Cunningham and Westbrook had both previously competed in beauty pageants. The creative team included Mike Nichols (sets), Mark Hughes (costumes), and Kathy Gray (lighting).

The production ran from January 21, 1988 through February 21, 1988.

It has since been retitled American Beauty and is available for licensing.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1988’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS

The final Arkansas Rep production in its original home was Robert Harling’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS.  Demand for tickets was so strong that the run was extended by over a week even before the show opened. (Having the next show opening in the new space probably allowed for this extension to be possible because there was not a concern about an overlap of space needs.)

This tale of six Southern women of varying ages featured Victoria Holloway and Casey Alexander as a mother and daughter, Theresa Quick and Francine Thomas as the owner of a beauty salon and her employee, with Francis Kemp and Candyce Hinkle as a pair of lifelong friends rounding out the cast.

Selected by Cliff Fannin Baker, the show was still running Off Broadway and had not yet been made into a movie when it was announced for the Rep’s season.  The show was directed by Cathey Crowell Sawyer.  The creative team included Mike Nichols (set), Mark Hughes (costumes), Robert A. Jones (lighting) and Sheri Bethel (sound).

Nichols and Hinkle would reunite with this title when the Rep mounted it to kick off the 30th season in 2005.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: The 1986 production of THE FOREIGNER

Blasny Blasny.  Larry Shue’s 1984 farce THE FOREIGNER made its first of four appearances on the Arkansas Rep stage in January 1986.

Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker, it featured Terry Sneed as the title character, a mild-mannered man who pretends to be a non-English speaking foreigner to avoid interactions with locals at a small-town hunting resort.

Others in the cast were Steve Wilkerson, Mark Johnson, Ron Aulgur, Scott Edmonds, Natalie Canderday and Jean Lind.

The production ran from January 16 through February 9 of 1986. It was so popular that it sold out its run. Standing room only ticket holders filled all available spaces.  Gov. Bill Clinton called for tickets and could not be accommodated.

It has subsequently been mounted at the Rep three times more: during the 1987/88, 1995/96 and 2008/09 seasons. It is the only play to have been staged that many times in the Rep’s history.

The 1988 staging featured Wilkerson, Sneed, and Johnson reprising their roles.