Pulitzers Play Little Rock: NEXT TO NORMAL on Arkansas Rep stage

ndnextThe line “Valium is my favorite color” was uttered on the Arkansas Rep stage in 2012 when the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Next to Normal was performed.

The show was a surprise winner of the 2010 Pulitzer for Drama.  It had not been one of the three finalists selected by the jury, but was picked for the honor by the Pulitzer Board.

With music by Tom Kitt and a book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, Next to Normal is a powerful rock musical about a mentally ill suburban mom who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that illness has on her family.

The Arkansas Rep cast featured Deb Lyons as Diana — the mother of the family, Jonathan Rayson as her husband Dan, Kristin Parker and Will Holly as their children, Mo Brady as a friend of the family and Peter James Zielinski playing a pair of physicians.

Helen Gregory was the Musical Director. Other members of the creative team included Mike Nichols (scenic designer), Shelly Hall (costume designer), Michael J. Eddy (lighting designer), M. Jason Pruzin (sound designer) and Lynda J. Kwallek (properties designer).

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.

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New Titles and Old Favorites Mark Celebrity Attractions 2018-2019 season in Little Rock

The 2018-2019 season marks 20 years that Celebrity Attractions has been bringing touring Broadway shows to Little Rock.  Next season’s lineup consists of five musicals including the return of some old favorites and two shows which are new to Little Rock but bring familiar characters.

CA1819JBUp first is JERSEY BOYS, the 2006 Tony winner for Best Musical.  Telling the story of the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, it makes a return visit to Little Rock from October 12 to 14.

Go behind the music and inside the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons in the Tony Award®-winning true-life musical phenomenon, JERSEY BOYS. From the streets of New Jersey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this is the musical that’s just too good to be true.

CA1819LNDNext is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LOVE NEVER DIES.  This is the long-anticipated sequel to The Phantom of the Opera.  It will be on stage at Robinson Center from November 20 to 25, 2018.

Ten years after disappearing from the Paris Opera House, The Phantom has a new life in New York where he lives amongst the joy rides and freak shows of Coney Island. Christine Daaé, now one of the world’s finest sopranos, is coming to perform in New York. In a final bid to win back Christine’s love, The Phantom lures her, Raoul, and their young son to the glittering and glorious world of Coney Island… not knowing what is in store for them….

CA1819FNAnother familiar character returns to Robinson in a new show when Peter Pan comes back. This time, it is FINDING NEVERLAND which explores the origins of the Peter Pan story.  It will be at Robinson on December 22 and 23.

Playwright J.M. Barrie struggles to find inspiration until he meets four young brothers and their beautiful widowed mother. Spellbound by the boys’ enchanting make-believe adventures, he sets out to write a play that will astound London theatergoers. With a little bit of pixie dust and a lot of faith, Barrie takes this monumental leap, leaving his old world behind for Neverland, where nothing is impossible and the wonder of childhood lasts forever. The magic of Barrie’s classic tale springs spectacularly to life in this heartwarming theatrical event.

CA1819EThe music of Andrew Lloyd Webber returns to Robinson for the second time in the season with EVITA.  Winner of the 1980 Tony for Best Musical, this show (with book and lyrics by Tim Rice) will be at Robinson from March 15 to 17, 2019.

Eva Perón used her beauty and charisma to rise meteorically from the slums of Argentina to the presidential mansion as First Lady. Adored by her people as a champion for the poor, she became one of the most powerful women in the world—while her greed, outsized ambition and fragile health made her one of the most tragic. Evita tells Eva’s passionate and unforgettable true story, and features some of theater’s most beautiful songs, including “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” and “High Flying, Adored.”

TCA1819SOMhe last show of the Celebrity Attractions season at Robinson Center is the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II classic THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  Winner of the 1960 Tony for Best Musical, it will be at Robinson Center from May 24 to 26, 2019.

This classic musical is 59 going on 60 in the year 2019.  With a book by Pulitzer winners Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Robinson Center will truly be alive with the sound of music.  The spirited, romantic and beloved musical story of Maria and the von Trapp Family will once again thrill audiences with its Tony®, Grammy® and Academy Award®-winning Best Score, including My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, Edelweiss and the title song.

Tickets will go on sale first to current subscribers and then to new subscribers.  Individual tickets will go on sale closer to each show’s arrival in Little Rock.  Information is available at the Celebrity Attractions website.

Little Rock Look Back: 44th and 49th Mayor Charles Moyer

On April 18, 1880, future Little Rock Mayor Charles E. Moyer was born in Glenwood, Minnesota. A man of contradictions, he was both a candidate backed by (and probably personally involved in) the Ku Klux Klan, yet he also brought the Goodwill Industries organization to Little Rock and Arkansas to help those less fortunate.

He came to Little Rock shortly after the turn of the 20th century as a clerk in the Post Office, and later served as a mail carrier. He then worked for Plunkett-Jarrell Wholesale Grocer Company in Little Rock. On January 1, 1921, he took office as County Judge for Pulaski County. In 1924, he ran against incumbent mayor Ben Brickhouse in the Democratic primary. Since Brickhouse had displeased the Klan, which was an active part of Democratic politics in Little Rock and throughout the nation at the time, Moyer won the primary.

Mayor Moyer led the City of Little Rock from April 1925 through April 1929. In 1927, the last lynching in Little Rock took place. While race-baiting crowds were surrounding City Hall demanding an African American prisoner be released to them for vigilante justice, Mayor Moyer was in hiding at an undisclosed location. Not able to get the prisoner they wanted, they took out their venom on another man who had assaulted a white woman and her daughter.

After leaving office in 1929, Moyer moved for a time to Batesville. He returned to Little Rock and was a chief deputy sheriff. From 1937 to 1941, he served as Pulaski County Assessor. In 1941, he returned to the office of Little Rock Mayor after J. V. Satterfield opted to serve only one term and did not seek re-election. Mayor Moyer led Little Rock through most of World War II. He left office in April 1945 and died on May 29, 1945, barely one month after leaving City Hall.

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: Top Dog/Underdog at The Weekend Theater

TopDog-UnderDog-Poster-SmallWhile the Sondheim-Weidman musical Assassins is playing currently at The Weekend Theater, it is not the only title produced there with characters named Lincoln and Booth.

Suzan-Lori Parks’s Top Dog/Underdog is a two character play featuring brothers named Lincoln and Booth.  Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this is a darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity.

The play tells the story of Lincoln and Booth, two African American brothers whose names were given to them as a joke, foretelling a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment.

In 2014, The Weekend Theater presented the play.  The brothers were played by Byron Thomas Jr. and Jermaine McClure.  The latter also directed the play.

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.

Benjamin Harrison becomes first sitting president to visit Little Rock

On April 17, 1891, Benjamin Harrison became the first sitting president to visit Arkansas.  He was on a cross-country railroad trip having left DC on April 13.

The morning of the 17th he spoke in Memphis and then took the train to Little Rock.  Accompanying him from Memphis to Little Rock were a delegation which included Governor and Mrs. James P. Eagle, Mayor H. L. Fletcher and Col. Logan H. Roots.  Also in the party was Mrs. W. G. Whipple, a former first lady of Little Rock.

They arrived in Little Rock in the afternoon.  A parade took them from the train station to the State House (now the Old State House Museum) where the Governor formally welcomed the President and his party.

In his brief remarks, President Harrison spoke of the hospitality and the natural resources available in Arkansas.  He also touched on the Civil War, which at the time was less than 30 years in the past. He noted “The commonwealth rests upon the free suffrage of its citizens and their devotion to the Constitution and the flag is the bulwark of its life.  We have agreed, I am sure, that we will do no more fighting among ourselves.” These remarks were met enthusiastically by the crowd assembled.

The President concluded is brief remarks thanking the State officials and the citizenry.  He then took the train to Texarkana where he made his third set of remarks of the day.

Benjamin Harrison was on the Presidential ticket two times. The first time he lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College defeating incumbent Grover Cleveland. The second time he lost both the popular and electoral votes to Cleveland.  He did not carry Arkansas in either election. Though he was the first sitting president to visit Little Rock, there is nothing here named for him.  Since there was already a Harrison Street named after his grandfather, he is skipped between Cleveland and McKinley in the presidential streets.

Pulitzers Play in Little Rock: Lunt and Fontanne in THERE SHALL BE NO NIGHT

ThereShallBeOn the eve of the US entry into World War II, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne returned to Little Rock in the national tour of Robert E. Sherwood’s Pulitzer Prize winning There Shall Be No Night.  It played at Robinson Memorial Auditorium on Monday, November 24, 1941.

Set in Finland in the time leading up to and during the start of the Russian invasion, it looked at the impact of impending war on a family.  Between the time it premiered in March 1940 and the tour in 1941, so many European countries experienced the horrors of war as countries were overtaken and troops were either killed or pressed into service by the enemy.  A program note in the playbill outlined much of this and noted how the script had not been updated to reflect the changes in world events.  (When Robinson opened in February 1940, the Russian invasion of Finland was a top international story.)

Joining Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were many members of the original Broadway cast including Sydney Greenstreet, Thomas Gomez, Elisabeth Fraser, and Maurice Colbourne.  Also from the original cast was a young actor who played the Lunts’ son, Montgomery Clift.

The play was directed by Mr. Lunt.  The sets were by first time Broadway designer Richard Whorf.  He would go on to have an illustrious career as a theatrical designer.  He had been an actor on Broadway and was a member of the unofficial Lunt-Fontanne repertory company of actors.  The costumes were by Valentina, who often designed costumes for Miss Fontanne.

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 Pulitzer Day, prizing Mount Holly Cemetery

The Pulitzer Prizes are to be announced today.  This year marks the 101st anniversary of the prizes, though not all of the current categories have been around since 1917.

Mount Holly Cemetery not only touts that it is the site of a whole host of elected officials, it is also the only place in Arkansas where two Pulitzer Prize recipients are buried. The cemetery is open every day, but a special visit to these two prize winner gravesites can be made on Sunday, April 30, during the Mount Holly Cemetery Association’s annual “Rest in Perpetuity” fundraiser picnic.

In 1939, John Gould Fletcher became the first Southern poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He was born into a prominent Little Rock family in 1886.  Fletcher was awarded the prize for his collection Selected Poems which was published by Farrar in 1938.  Two years earlier, he had been commissioned by the Arkansas Gazette to compose an epic poem about the history of Arkansas in conjunction with the state’s centennial.

Fletcher is buried next to his wife, author Charlie May Simon and his parents (his father was former Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher).  Other relatives are buried nearby in the cemetery.

The other Pulitzer Prize winner buried in Mount Holly is J. N. Heiskell, the longtime editor of the Arkansas Gazette.  It was Heiskell, in fact, who asked Fletcher to compose the poem about Arkansas.  Heiskell served as editor of the Gazette from 1902 through 1972.  He died at the age of 100 in 1972.

Under his leadership, the Gazette earned two Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High.  One was for Harry Ashmore’s editorial writing and the other was for Public Service.

Heiskell remained in charge of the Gazette until his death in 1972.  He is buried alongside his wife with other relatives nearby.  Also not too far from Mr. Heiskell are two of his nemeses, proving that death and cemeteries can be the great equalizer. In the early days of his Gazette stewardship, he often locked horns with Senator (and former Governor) Jeff Davis. Later in Mr. Heiskell’s career, he vehemently disagreed with Dr. Dale Alford, who had been elected to Congress on a segregationist platform.