Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Ben Piazza

Actor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock.  Piazza graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951 as valedictorian. He also had starred in the senior play that year (The Man Who Came to Dinner) and edited the literary magazine.

Keeping the Tiger as his mascot, Piazza attended college at Princeton University.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.  Following his 1955 graduation, he moved to New York City and studied at the Actor’s Studio.

piazza

Piazza was an understudy in the 1956 play, Too Late the Phalarope at the Belasco Theatre.  In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. Other cast members included Claudia McNeil (who originated the part of Lena in A Raisin in the Sun) and Sandra Church (who originated the part of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy).

In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre. This two actor play also featured Sessue Hayakawa, who played a Japanese soldier who spoke only his native l

anguage.  Therefore, Piazza’s part was largely a very lengthy monologue.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

As the 1960s dawned, Piazza joined a small cadre of actors who had achieved status on Broadway who then also returned to acting Off Broadway.  Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and James Earl Jones were others in this select group who helped establish Off Broadway as an entity in itself, instead of being just a farm team for Broadway.

Piazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second String with Shirley Booth, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nina Foch, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Carrie Nye.   Following that, he started his association with Edward Albee by appearing as the title character in The American Dream.  That play opened at the York Playhouse in January 1961.  Later that year, he appeared in Albee’s The Zoo Story opposite original cast member William Daniels at the East End Theatre.

 

Also in 1961 Piazza starred in several plays during a South American tour sponsored by the American Repertory Company.  He played Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Cameraand Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth.  In 1962, he starred in a series of plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Piazza returned to Broadway to star along with Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon in The Fun Couple at the Lyceum Theatre. This play had a troubled rehearsal period, which was documented in a short film about Jane Fonda.

Ben Piazza stayed on Broadway and returned to Albee in February 1963.  He took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when original actor George Grizzard left to play Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre.  (He had participated in earlier readings of the play prior to it being mounted on Broadway.)

This play was at the Billy Rose Theatre, which marked a return for Piazza. He had acted at this theatre when it was the National while appearing in Winesburg. Piazza played Nick for the remainder of the run and acted with Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, fellow Arkansan Melinda Dillon, Eileen Fulton, Nancy Kelly, Mercedes McCambridge, Rochelle Oliver and Sheppard Strudwick.

Exact and Very Strange cover

During the run of this show, Piazza’s novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth was published.  It is a fictionalized account of his growing up in Little Rock during the 1930s and 1940s.  The book is filled with references to Centennial Elementary, Westside Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.  The Piazza Shoe Store, located on Main Street, was called Gallanti’s.

Following Virginia Woolf, he starred in The Zoo Story at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1965.  In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.

As Sunday Agreement was opening, Piazza was in rehearsal for his next Broadway opening. He appeared with Alfred Drake in The Song of the Grasshopper in September 1967.  In 1968, he returned to Albee and starred in The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story in repertory on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre.

Later that season, in March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It was directed by future Tony nominee Peter Masterson and starred Louise Lasser, Robert Walden (who starred in the 2013 production of Death of a Salesman at Arkansas Repertory Theatre), Clinton Allmon and Dolores Dorn-Heft, to whom Piazza was married at the time.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. He also appeared in major regional theatres as an actor and a director.  During this time period he was in productions of Bus Stop, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, You Know I Can’t Hear You when the Water’s Running  and Savages.  In 1970, he starred as Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

BDP early

Piazza’s film debut was in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, Maria Schell and George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree.  Though he received positive reviews for his performances, Piazza chose to return to New York and perform in stage and TV productions.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows including Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, The Naked City and Dick Powell Theatre.  He had a recurring role during one season of Ben Casey and appeared on the soap opera Love of Life.

In the 1970s, he starred in the films Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; The Candy Snatchers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  He also starred as the City Councilman who recruits Walter Matthau to coach a baseball team inThe Bad News Bears.

Among his numerous TV appearances in the 1970s were The Waltons, Mannix, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Lou Grant (where he was reunited with Walden).

BDP final

In the 1980s, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, Hart to Hart, Family Ties, The Winds of War, Dallas, Dynasty, Too Close for Comfort, The A Team, Saint Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, The Facts of Life, Mr. Belvedere, Moonlighting and Matlock.

Piazza’s final big screen appearance was in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion.  He played studio head Darryl Zanuck in this Robert DeNiro-Annette Bening tale of Hollywood during the Red scare.

Ben Piazza died on September 7, 1991.

In November 2016, a room at the Robinson Conference Center was dedicated to his memory.


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2017 Tony Award predictions

Tony Tony TonyI have struggled with these a lot more this year because so many races are so close.  But here are my thoughts on the 2017 Tony Award potential winners.

Play
A Doll’s House, Part 2, Lucas Hnath
Indecent, Paula Vogel
Oslo, J.T. Rogers
Sweat, Lynn Nottage

Sweat was the early front-runner after picking up the Pulitzer; Oslo has captured every other award since then.  A Doll’s House, Part 2 has run a masterful campaign since the nominations and is likely to be a popular touring vehicle given its cast and set requirements (minimal). There is momentum for Hnath’s play, but Tony voters tend to love Lincoln Center Theater productions, of which Rogers’ play is one.  I think OSLO will triumph.

 

Best Musical
Come From Away
Dear Evan Hansen
Groundhog Day
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

“Great Comet” could be a spoiler, but the race is likely betwixt Come from Away and Dear Evan Hansen.  This is a case of “important” vs. “populist” though both pull at the emotional heartstrings repeatedly.  As much as I would love to see Come from Away win because a friend from college is in the cast (and I think it handles 9/11 without exploiting it), I suspect DEAR EVAN HANSEN will emerge with the silver medallion.

  

Revival of a Play
Jitney
The Little Foxes
Present Laughter
Six Degrees of Separation

Jitney seems to have the edge on this race.  Since it shares the same producer as The Little Foxes, this is one of those rare Tony races without aggressive campaigning.  This is a chance to recognize the genius that was August Wilson over a decade after his untimely death.  The Tony goes to JITNEY

 

Revival of a Musical
Falsettos
Hello, Dolly!
Miss Saigon

Call on Dolly!  It will be HELLO, DOLLY!

 

Actor in a Play
Denis Arndt, Heisenberg
Chris Cooper, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation
Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Jefferson Mays, Oslo

While there is an outside chance that Chris Cooper or Jefferson Mays could stage a coup, the award is KEVIN KLINE’s.  He wears the role like a silk dressing gown.

 

Actress in a Play
Cate Blanchett, The Present
Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie
Laura Linney, The Little Foxes
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2

The race is really between Metcalf and Linney.  But when it is that tight, there is an opening for an upset – with either Ehle (who Tony voters love) or Field poised to sweep in.  With both Linney and Metcalf having multiple nominations with no wins and a lot of support for their star turns, it is truly splitting hairs to pick a favorite.  Gut says LAURIE METCALF for creating an original role.  Plus, her other nominations have been for outstanding work in mediocre plays, whereas Linney has been recognized for strong work in better productions.  This is a chance to reward Metcalf for being in a better product.

 

Actor in a Musical
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day The Musical
David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

Andy Karl seems poised to be the 2010s Raul Esparza—that actor who gives it his all and walks away on Tony night empty handed every time.  While he gives it his all (physically) in Groundhog Day the award seems likely to go to wunderkind BEN PLATT who gives it his all (emotionally).

 

Actress in a Musical
Denée Benton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon

From the day her casting was announced, the engravers went to work on etching BETTE MIDLER’s name on this award.

 

Featured Actor in a Play
Michael Aronov, Oslo
Danny DeVito, The Price
Nathan Lane, The Front Page
Richard Thomas, The Little Foxes
John Douglas Thompson, Jitney

Lane was the front-runner early in the season, but since has been in London, he hasn’t been around to make the campaign events.  Though Aronov has his supporters DANNY DEVITO steals the play and will likely take home the trophy.

 

Featured Actress in a Play
Johanna Day, Sweat
Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
Condola Rashad, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Michelle Wilson, Sweat

The Sweat and Doll’s House ladies likely cancel each other out.  CYNTHIA NIXON is likely to add a “Fox” Tony next to her “Rabbit” Tony.

 

Featured Actor in a Musical
Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen
Andrew Rannells, Falsettos
Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

Creel, Rannells and Uranowitz are all well-liked, previous nominees.  Steele gives a flashy performance that has “award-winning” written all over it.  But it looks like Tony may be saying “Hello” to GAVIN CREEL

 

Featured Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
Jenn Colella, Come From Away
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

Previous nominees Baldwin and Peil do not appear to be in the mix this year.  The race seems to be between Jones and Colella in what could either be a harbinger of the Best Musical winner or a consolation prize.  Block is poised to be the spoiler in a category that often has spoilers.  The ever-so-slight edge seems to go to JENN COLELLA who has been a game campaigner (and been assisted by her real life counterpart).

 

Direction of a Play
Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jitney
Bartlett Sher, Oslo
Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

 A case could be made for any of these. At one point Taichman seemed like the frontrunner. Of late, it seems to be a race between Santiago-Hudson and Sher, revival vs. play.  The fact that Jitney is still so memorable several months after it closed is a testament to Santiago-Hudson’s deft work.  It looks like RUBEN SANTIAGO-HUDSON may add a second August Wilson-related Tony to his collection, this time for directing.

 

Direction of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen
Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day
Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

Good to see Jerry Zaks back in the nominee list for the first time in 22 years.  He and previous winner Warchus will likely remain seated tonight.  Though there is a sense that Greif is overdue for a Tony win (and it has been 21 years since his first nomination), RACHEL CHAVKIN has the advantage for her work steering “Great Comet” over the years and transforming it into a Broadway scale show while shattering a proscenium-bound house.

 

Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day
Kelly Devine, Come From Away
Denis Jones, Holiday Inn
Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Usually this award goes to either the juggernaut show or the “danciest” show.  Bandstand and Holiday Inn were the two dance shows of the season.  While there is a sense that Pinkleton might win for his working keeping all the Russians moving throughout “Great Comet,” it will most likely be Andy Blankenbuehler picking up his second consecutive (and third overall) Tony for his wartime era dance moves.

 

Book of a Musical
Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Danny Rubin, Groundhog Day
Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away

As with Best Musical, it really is a race between “Evan” and “Come.”  There is some thought that Sankoff and Hein might pick this up as a consolation prize, and for creating an appropriate narrative around a 9/11 story.  But Levenson has constructed a book which generates sympathy for a character that could be easily disliked.  With a bullet, the Tony goes to STEVEN LEVENSON.

 

Original Score
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Tim Minchin, Groundhog Day
Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen
Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away

None of the scores are as memorable as last year’s winner Hamilton.  But then, in the 21st century, few of the musicals are “hummable.”  Pasek and Paul have contributed an emotionally powerful but accessible score with pathos and humor (though the same could be said of Sankoff and Hein—except that their score is a bit more pedestrian).  The fact that BENJ PASEK & JUSTIN PAUL are riding the crest of La La Land laurels should deliver them to Tony land.

 

Orchestrations
Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand
Larry Hochman, Hello, Dolly!
Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

This category is always hard to predict unless there is a mega-juggernaut.  Malloy could be recognized here for his work in all three categories in which he is nominated.  Elliott & Rassen made the Big Band era come alive in a Broadway show.  Lacamoire could be a back-to-back winner.  But my money is on LARRY HOCHMAN, since Herman’s tuneful score is not eligible.

 

Scenic Design of a Play
David Gallo, Jitney
Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page
Michael Yeargan, Oslo

Yeargan’s set is simplicity; Schmidt’s is overstuffed.  Gallo created a seedy 1970s Pittsburgh. But I think the Tonys will go right for NIGEL HOOK’s self-destructive set.

 

Scenic Design of a Musical
Rob Howell, Groundhog Day
David Korins, War Paint
Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

MIMI LIEN turned a proscenium house into an interactive environmental wonderland.  The Tony goes to her.

 

Costume Design of a Play

Jane Greenwood, The Little Foxes
Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter
Toni-Leslie James, Jitney
David Zinn, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Please let this be the year that JANE GREENWOOD finally wins a competitive Tony.  It HAS been 52 years since her first nomination after all.  Plus her costumes were spot-on and gorgeous.

 

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Linda Cho, Anastasia
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Catherine Zuber, War Paint

While the always reliable (and worthy of recognition) Santo Loquasto may well pick up the Tony for Dolly—the costume design Tony often goes to shows about fashion.  CATHERINE ZUBER has a field day with her clothing for War Paint, and I think that may be the ticket for her to get another Tony.

 

Lighting Design of a Play
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Jane Cox, Jitney
Donald Holder, Oslo
Jennifer Tipton, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Lighting plays a key role in the action of Indecent.  I think that will be why CHRISTOPHER AKERLIND will win the Tony.

 

Lighting Design of a Musical
Howell Binkley, Come From Away
Natasha Katz, Hello, Dolly!
Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Japhy Weideman, Dear Evan Hansen

While I would love to see former Arkansas Rep lighting designer Japhy Weideman pick up his first Tony tonight, I think the multitude of lightbulbs and light fixtures of “Great Comet” will push BRADLEY KING into the winner’s circle.


Open Studios Little Rock today

oslr_logo_goldred_ac-lineThe City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission is thrilled to announce its first-ever Open Studios Little Rock.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 10, gain exclusive access to 30 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.

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.
To plan your Open Studio visits:

  • Download the Open Studios map (click here)
  • Visit the Open Studios Welcome Booth in the Creative Corridor the day of the event. Complimentary coffee and doughnuts will be provided, plus the opportunity to tour two participating studios – Matt McCleod Fine Art and Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s Education Annex. The Welcome Booth will be located in front of Matt McLeod Fine Art, 108 West 6th Street, 72201.

Artists who are unable to welcome the public into their studios will showcase their work at the Alternative Space hosted at the West Central Community Center, 8616 Colonel Glenn Road, 72204.

During Open Studios, the colorful “Open Studio” signs will alert you to Open Studio spaces.

SALES

Sales are handled by each artist and we do not take a percentage. You may sell prints, other artistic projects and commission customized work for the future. It is suggested that you are equipped to accept credit cards.

Participating Artists (as of 5.15.2017)

  • Adrian Quintanar Pottery
  • Catherine Rodgers Contemporary Art
  • Co-Op Art
  • Elizabeth Weber
  • Felice Farrell
  • Gary Cawood
  • Glenda McCune
  • Ike Garlington
  • Jeff Horton
  • Jennifer Cox Coleman
  • Jennifer Perren
  • Jerry Phillips’ Studio
  • Jimmy Parks
  • Linda Ferstl Watercolors
  • Little Rock Violin Shop
  • Marisa Cook
  • Maritza and Terry Bean Artists
  • Mary Pat Tate
  • Matt McLeod Fine Art
  • MichaelWardArt
  • Michael Warrick
  • New Deal Studios and Gallery, featuring the work of Jeff Waddle
  • Ruth Pasquine
  • Sandy Furrer, Certified Scottish Country Dance Teacher
  • Sandra Sell

Participating Cultural Institutions:

  • Arkansas Arts Center
  • Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s Education Annex
  • Mosaic Templars Cultural Center featuring the work of Nina Robinson


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Little Rock Look Back: SOUTH PACIFIC wins Pulitzer Prize

On May 5, 1950, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific captured the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. This would receive special attention in the Arkansas Gazette. The reason this carried such weight in Arkansas was that the musical had a connection to Little Rock.
The 1950 Pulitzer for Drama went to a musical, for only the second time in the history of the awards. The recipient was South Pacific by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan. The character was the leading lady of Nellie Forbush. She was an Navy ensign and a nurse stationed on an exotic island during World War II. The musical was based on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific.

In the Michener novel, Miss Forbush is not from Little Rock. She is actually from a small town in Alabama. The part was written for Mary Martin from Weatherford, Texas. Rodgers, Hammerstein & Logan did not discuss why they relocated Nellie’s birthplace.

Originally the musical contained a song entitled “My Girl Back Home” in which Nellie sang of being from “Little Rock, A-R-K” while another character sang of being from “Philadelphia, P-A” and “Princeton, N-J.” It is possible the change to Little Rock was made because it offered more lyrical possibilities, but that is only a supposition on the part of the Culture Vulture. That song did appear in the movie version in which Mitzi Gaynor played Nellie Forbush. It was also featured in the 2008 Broadway revival, this time with Kelli O’Hara playing Nellie.

In the musical, Nellie struggles with her own prejudices. This issue of prejudice became an instance of fact meeting fiction. In 1957, a few weeks after Eisenhower sent troops into Little Rock to ensure that Central High would be desegregated, a production of South Pacific on Long Island was temporarily halted when the audience booed and yelled after Nellie mentioned she was from Little Rock. Interestingly, the movie was released in 1958, but retained references to Little Rock. That was either a testament to the expense of re-editing it, or the fact that audience reaction had lessened.


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Remembering Betty Fowler

(Photo courtesy of Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation)

Arkansas entertainer icon Betty Fowler died Saturday, April 15, 2017.

The information below is adapted from her obituary.

Betty was born on September 17, 1925 in Wynne, Arkansas to the late Harry Willis Hunter and Elizabeth Sands Hunter. Her love for music began at age 9, when she started taking piano lessons. Betty began her illustrious career at age 18 after winning a talent contest, which gave her the push she needed to pursue her life’s passion. Betty graduated from Little Rock Jr. College in 1944. She spent most of her life in Little Rock as a popular musician and television entertainer.

Betty began her musical career on a statewide radio show. She moved on to become a television performer in the early 1950’s in Little Rock with what is now known as Channel 7. She was best known for her children’s TV show, “Betty’s Little Rascals”, which began in 1955.

She went on to co-host the “Little Rock Today Show” on Channel 4 with Bud Campbell, where she did live commercials, played the piano and interviewed celebrities who came to town, such as Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope, Red Buttons and Robert Goulet.

Through the years, Betty maintained a vigorous schedule with her band, “The Betty Fowler Four”, which produced a record album of her music. She was also musical director for The Miss Arkansas Pageant (1960-84), Musical Director for Broadway musicals produced by the Community Theater, Musical Director for the Farkleberry Follies and The Gridiron.

For many years, Betty taught piano and had a recording studio in her home, where she gave voice coaching lessons and made accompany tapes for many aspiring performers.
Betty Fowler will forever be remembered and treasured for her lifetime love and devotion to the world of music, both in performing and in the teaching of music to others.


Little Rock Look Back: A municipal auditorium for Little Rock is announced

On April 12, 1904, Mayor W. E. Lenon made what was the first official proposal for a municipal auditorium in Little Rock.  Little did he know at the time that it would take from April 1904 until February 1940 to make this dream a reality.

Elected as a progressive, Lenon was focused on not just providing city services, but also had an interest in initiatives which would move the city forward.  With that background it is not surprising that Mayor Lenon would be a champion for the construction of both a new city hall as well as a municipal auditorium building.  During his first annual address to the City Council in April 1904 he noted:

Recently a number of our citizens have taken an active interest in building an auditorium in our city.  This being a project of such worthy consideration should not go unnoticed by us.  Apparently this is one of the greatest needs.  Our business, social, commercial and financial interests, in fact, our entire city, would be benefitted by the building of same.  It has therefore occurred to me that an auditorium might be built in conjunction with a new city hall.

The mayor further discussed that these new structures could either be built on the site of the current City Hall or at a new location.  He also touched on possible financing options including the collection of a one percent assessment.

The mayor would bring this up again in his 1905 annual address.  It would not be until December 1905 that the City Council would officially take any action on the plan.


Little Rock Look Back: SOUTH PACIFIC opens on Broadway 68 years ago today

Sixty-eight years ago today, a fictional Little Rock heroine took the stage of a Broadway megahit when South Pacific opened at the Majestic Theatre on April 7, 1949. It settled in for a run of 1925 performances. Based on the James Michener Pulitzer Prize winning novel Tales of the South Pacific, it featured a book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, songs by Richard Rodgers and Hammerstein and direction by Logan. It was produced by Rodgers, Hammerstein, Logan and Leland Hayward. Set in the titular islands, it concerned the relationships of sailors, nurses, island natives and other island inhabitants.

The musical starred recent Tony winner Mary Martin as Little Rock native Nellie Forbush, opera star Ezio Pinza, stage veterans Myron McCormick and Juanita Hall, and stage newcomers William Tabbert and Betta St. John. Cloris Leachman was Martin’s understudy and would later succeed her in the part of Little Rock native Nellie Forbush.

Like other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, this show tackled tough themes – this one being prejudice. That did not set well with some theatergoers. Indeed, some potential investors did not put money into the show because of its stance. But Rodgers, Hammerstein, Logan and Hayward persisted. Their diligence paid off when the musical received the 1950 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, only the second musical to receive this designation. It is also the only Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner to be based on Pulitzer Prize winning source material. This was the first Rodgers & Hammerstein musical to not feature big dance numbers. In fact, there was no choreographer. The dance steps which existed were created by Martin, who had taught dance in her native Texas as a young mother.

Opening late in the season, South Pacific was named the 1949 New York Drama Critics Circle Best Musical, but was not part of the Tony Awards until 1950. (Though Jo Mielziner, who designed the set for South Pacific received a Tony for his set designs of shows during the 1948-49 season and South Pacific was one of the titles listed.) At the 1950 Tonys, it received six Tony Awards (sometimes listed as eight because Book and Score were not broken separate from Best Musical that year—but some sources incorrectly separate them.) It was named Best Musical, Actor in a Musical (Pinza), Actress in a Musical (Martin), Featured Actor in a Musical (McCormick), Featured Actress in a Musical (Hall), and Director (Logan). This is the only time that all four acting awards in the musical category went to performers in the same production. In fact, the other two acting trophies that year were incorrectly engraved as being from South Pacific out of habit.

Logan’s win was also the first time that the Director Tony went for a musical, since at the time that award was not separated out among plays and musicals. Hall was the first African American to win a Tony Award for Acting. Martin would reunite with Hayward, Rodgers & Hammerstein ten years later for The Sound of Music. Pinza and Tabbert reunited in 1954 for Fanny which would be the final Broadway credit for each gentleman. McCormick stayed with the show the entire run, except for vacations.

In 1999 for the 50th anniversary and in 2008 for the opening of the first Broadway revival remaining cast members from the original production had reunions in New York City. At the 50th anniversary ceremony, a proclamation from Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey was read declaring it South Pacific day in Little Rock and honoring the show. It is interesting to note that in 1949, there were two heroines on the Broadway stage from Little Rock: Nellie Forbush from South Pacificand Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

In 2008, Lincoln Center Theatre produced the first revival of South Pacific on Broadway. It opened on April 3, just four days shy of the musical’s 59th anniversary.  The cast was led by Paulo Szot, Kelli O’Hara (as Little Rock girl Nellie Forbush), Matthew Morrison (before “Glee”), Danny Burstein and Loretta Ables Sayre.  The production restored a song which had been written for the original Broadway production that had been dropped. “My Girl Back Home” was featured in the movie version and in this Broadway revival. In it O’Hara and Morrison sang of their hometowns of Little Rock and Philadelphia.  The production was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won 7: Best Musical Revival, Actor in a Musical (Szot), Director of a Musical (Bartlett Sher), Scenic Design (Michael Yeargan), Costume Design (Catherine Zuber), Lighting Design (Donald Holder) and Sound Design (Scott Lehrer).