Rocking the Tony Awards – Past Tony nominees at Arkansas Rep

Photo by Peter Kramer/ Getty Images Entertainment

The 72nd Tony Awards take place on Sunday, June 10 at Radio City Music Hall (broadcast on CBS).

Over the years, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre has had several Tony nominees work on stage and backstage.

Among these are:

Julie Andrews, who headlined a 2002 fundraiser for Arkansas Rep.  That evening she shared stories about her life and career.  A two-time Tony Award host, she has been nominated three times for Actress in a Musical: My Fair Lady (1957), Camelot (1961) and Victor/Victoria (1996).

Jane Lanier, who choreographed Ring of Fire at Arkansas Rep.  In 1989, she was nominated as Featured Actress in a Musical for her work in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.  

Mercedes McCambridge, who appeared in ‘night, Mother at the Rep in the spring of 1986.  She was nominated as Featured Actress in a Play for The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks for the 1972 awards.

Austin Pendleton, who directed A Loss of Roses at Arkansas Rep.  After appearing in the original cast of Tony winning Best Musical Fiddler on the Roof, he later received a Tony nomination for directing the 1981 revival of The Little Foxes which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Maureen Stapleton.

Jane Summerhays, who starred in the Arkansas Rep production of A Loss of Roses.  In 1987, she was nominated for Featured Actress in a Musical for Me and My Girl.

John Tartaglia, who directed 2013’s Because of Winn Dixie.  He was nominated for the 2004 Tony for Actor in a Musical for his performance in Avenue Q.

Japhy Weideman, who was the Rep’s lighting designer in the early 2000’s.  While he was at the Rep, he lit several shows including The Grapes of Wrath, All My Sons and God’s Man in Texas.  He has received Tony nominations for lighting design for his work on The Nance (2013), Of Mice and Men (2014), Airline Highway (2015), The Visit (2015), and Dear Evan Hansen (2017).

The fact that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre has been able to work with theatre artists of this calibre is a testament to the quality of work it has produced.  Giving the opportunity for Arkansas audiences to have this interaction without leaving the state is one of the values of the Rep.

Repertorium Praeter Theatrum

Tony Awards Week – Japhy Weideman



Last month former Arkansas Rep resident lighting designer Japhy Weideman was recognized with an Obie Award for his continuous outstanding lighting design Off Broadway.  While he was at the Rep, he lit several shows including The Grapes of Wrath, All My Sons and God’s Man in Texas.

Sunday, Weideman is nominated for the Tony for Lighting Design of a Play for Airline Highway. He is also nominated for the Tony for Lighting Design of a Musical for The Visit.  In an even rarer feat, both shows opened the same night.  He is one of a handful of people to ever have two shows open on the same night.

Weideman was nominated in 2013 for Lighting Design of a Play for The Nance which starred Nathan Lane.  Last season he was nominated for his design of Of Mice and Men which starred James Franco, Chris O’Dowd, Leighton Meester and Jim Norton.

Other Broadway credits include The Snow Geese and a Lincoln Center production of The Scottish Play which starred Ethan Hawke.  This season he also designed the lighting for a revival of The Heidi Chronicles which starred Elisabeth Moss, Jason Biggs and Bryce Pinkham.   One of the producers of that revival was Little Rock native Will Trice.  Weideman and Trice will reunite next season in a revival of A. R. Gurney’s comedy Sylvia which is to star Tony winner (and current nominee) Julie White and two-time Tony nominee Annaleigh Ashford.

Tony Awards Week – Tony Titles at Arkansas Rep

ark repNext year the Arkansas Repertory Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary season.  Since its first season, the Rep has often programmed plays and musicals which have been recognized with the Tony for Best Play or Best Musical of the season.

Many other Rep productions have been titles which have also won Tony Awards in some Broadway production.  But this list only looks at those which won or were nominated for the Tony for Best Play and Best Musical.

The first Rep production was The Threepenny Opera.  While it did not win the Tony for Best Musical, it goes on this list because it received a Special Tony in 1956 for its production.  The original production in the 1930s ran for just a few performances. So this production was not eligible for the Best Musical award. But it was so outstanding, it received a Special Tony.

That 1976-77 season also included a Best Play winner – The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, which took home the silver medallion for Best Play in 1966.

Rep SalesmanOther Tony Best Play winners produced by the Rep have been:

(Tony Year; Title; Rep season)

  • 1949 – Death of a Salesman – 2012-13
  • 1955 – The Diary of Anne Frank – 1977-78; 1981-82
  • 1960 – The Miracle Worker – 2004-05
  • 1963 – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – 1978-79
  • 1965 – The Subject Was Roses – 1981-82
  • 1973 – That Championship Season – 1984-85
  • 1979 – The Elephant Man – 2008-09
  • 1981 – Amadeus – 1995-96
  • 1984 – The Real Thing – 1986-87
  • 1985 – Biloxi Blues – 1987-88
  • 1986 – I’m Not Rappaport – 1989-90
  • 1987 – Fences – 2006-07
  • 1990 – The Grapes of Wrath – 2000-01
  • 1991 – Lost in Yonkers – 1994-95 (featuring future Tony winner Will Trice in the cast)
  • 1993 – Angels in America: Millennium Approaches – 1995-96; 1996-97
  • 1994 – Angels in America: Perestroika – 1996-97
  • 1997 – The Last Night of Ballyhoo – 1998-99
  • 1998 – Art – 2001-02
  • 2001 – Proof – 2002-03 (written by LR Hall graduate David Auburn)
  • 2005 – Doubt – 2007-08
  • 2008 – August: Osage County – 2014-15
  • 2010 – Red – 2013-14
  • 2012 – Clybourne Park – 2013-14


Next season the Rep will produce Peter and the Starcatcher which was nominated for Best Play in 2012.  Other Best Play nominees produced by the Rep include: Barefoot in the Park; Broadway Bound; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Crimes of the Heart; Frost/Nixon; The Gin Game; Glengarry Glen Ross; Having Our Say; Home; Lend Me a Tenor; A Lesson from Aloes; ‘Night, Mother; The Night of the Iguana; Noises Off; The Piano Lesson; The Rainmaker; A Raisin in the Sun; The Retreat from Moscow; Talley’s Folly; The 39 Steps; and A Walk in the Woods.

The Rep also produced House of Blue Leaves six years before it was nominated for Best Play at the Tonys. In addition, it produced All My Sons which received a Special Tony for playwright Arthur Miller at the first ceremony and is sometimes erroneously listed as being the Best Play of 1947. There was none that year.


THEREP_MEMPHIS (no credits)-page-001The 1971 Best Musical Company was part of the Rep’s inaugural season in 1976-77.  Other Tony Best Musicals winners produced by the Rep have been:

(Tony Year; Title; Rep season)

  • 1951 – Guys and Dolls – 1989-90
  • 1952 – The King and I – 2006-07
  • 1956 – Damn Yankees – 1999-2000
  • 1957 – My Fair Lady – 2004-05
  • 1960 – The Sound of Music – 2001-02
  • 1964 – Hello, Dolly! – 2007-08
  • 1967 – Cabaret – 2001-02
  • 1975 – The Wiz – 2011-12
  • 1976 – A Chorus Line – 2005-06
  • 1977 – Annie – 2002-03
  • 1978 – Ain’t Misbehavin’ – 1984-85; 2004-05
  • 1980 – Evita – 1989-90; 2010-11
  • 1986 – The Mystery of Edwin Drood – 1988-89
  • 1987 – Les Miserables – 2008-09; 2013-14
  • 2003 – Hairspray – 2010-11
  • 2004 – Avenue Q – 2012-13
  • 2010 – Memphis – 2014-15 (produced at Rep and on Broadway by LR native Remmel T. Dickinson)

In addition, the Rep has produced staged concert versions of 1958 Best Musical The Music Man and 1973 Best Musical A Little Night Music in collaboration with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

Next season the Rep will produce The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which was nominated for Best Musical in 2005.  Other Best Musical nominees produced by the Rep include: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; Blues in the Night; Chicago; Dreamgirls; Five Guys Named Moe; The Full Monty; Gypsy; Into The Woods; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Mary Poppins;  Next to Normal; Oh What A Lovely War; Once On This Island; Peter Pan; Pump Boys and Dinettes; Quilters; Side by Side by Sondheim; Smokey Joe’s Café; Stop the World, I Want To Get Off; Sweet Charity; West Side Story; and The Who’s Tommy.

ROCKing the TONY AWARDS – Barbara Loden and Elia Kazan

Rock the Tonys

William H. Alden/Evening Standard, via Getty Image

William H. Alden/Evening Standard, via Getty Image


Little Rock connection: The pair were married in 1967 in Little Rock at the home of Kazan’s son, who lived here at the time.

Tony Awards connection: Loden won a 1964 Tony for Featured Actress in a Play for her performance of a Marilyn Monroe-like character in After the Fall, Arthur Miller’s roman a clef about his marriage to Monroe. Loden was directed in the play by Kazan. He won Tonys for directing Miller’s All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman (1949) as well as MacLeish’s J.B. (1959). He was nominated for directing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and Sweet Bird of Youth. As a producer, he received Tony nominations for The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Strange Interlude and Tartuffe.

ROCKing the TONYS – Japhy Weideman

Rock the TonysJaphy Weideman


Photo courtesy of Shevett Studios

Little Rock connection: Designed the lighting for several shows at Arkansas Repertory Theatre including The Grapes of Wrath, All My Sons and God’s Man in Texas.

Tony Awards connection: Received a 2013 nomination for his lighting design of The Nance.  This season he has been represented on Broadway with The Snow Geese, Macbeth and Of Mice and Men. The latter play, starring James Franco, Chris O’Dowd, Leighton Meester and Jim Norton, opens on Broadway tonight.

CLYBOURNE PARK at Ark Rep closing this weekend

ClybourneIn real estate, “closing” is a good thing. In theatre, “closing” means a production is ending. Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer and Tony winning Clybourne Park closes its run this Sunday.

A few seasons ago, the Arkansas Rep produced Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal work A Raisin in the Sun. Clybourne Park explores events which happened before and after Hansberry’s play.

Clybourne Park is a bitingly funny and fiercely provocative play about the volatile combination of race and real estate. Written by Bruce Norris and directed by Rep founder Cliff Baker, its searing wit, intriguing plot twists and hard hitting social commentary make Clybourne Park a theatrical tour de force not to be missed.

In 1959, a white couple sells their home to a black family (the fictional Younger family from A Raisin in the Sun), causing an uproar in their middle-class neighborhood. Fifty years later in 2009, the same house is changing hands again, but the stakes have changed.

As neighbors wage a hilarious and pitched battle over territory and legacy, Clybourne Park reveals just how far our ideas about race and identity have evolved.

The cast includes Shaleah Adkisson, Ryan Barry, Katie Cunningham, Lawrence Evans, LeeAnne Hutchison, Robert Ierardi, Jason O’Connell, and David Tennal.

The creative team includes scenic designer Mike Nichols, costume designer Yslan Hicks, lighting designer Yael Lubetzky, sound designer Allan Branson and properties designer Lynda J. Kwallek.

The play was first performed in 2010 at Playwright’s Horizons. Following that production Norris received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A subsequent production was mounted on Broadway in 2012. The Broadway production was nominated for four Tony Awards and won the Tony for Best Play.

Clybourne Park is made possible in part by a grant from the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame Foundation, a component fund of the Arkansas Community Foundation.

For a review of Clybourne Park, read this.

Sold on CLYBOURNE PARK – expanded

ClybourneClybourne Park, Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer and Tony winning play, is about race and place. But it is not a pedantic treatise meant to induce guilt. Through its humor and honesty it examines prejudice, property value, and protection of principles. The prejudice on display is not just racial, but also extends to gender, class, disability and sexual identity. The characters are alternately clinging to a past as well as trying to bury it. If this sounds like heavy stuff, it is. But it is presented in such a way, that it does not seem weighty or oppressive.

The action of Clybourne Park takes place in the unseen house that was the crux of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. The conceit of Norris’ play is that fifty years separate the first act from the second one. Though played by the same actors, the characters are different in the two acts. Neither the playwright nor Cliff Fannin Baker, the director, hit the audience over the head with the connections the second act characters have to the first act or to the Hansberry play. They let things emerge organically. The people in this play are rarely who they seem to be. Allegiances shift throughout each act as layers are peeled back on the characters and their motivations.

It is cliché to say, but this play is truly an ensemble piece. As such, Norris (an erstwhile actor himself who once was directed by Baker) has provided each actor with moments to shine in both acts. When given these moments, the actors seized them. In quieter moments, the members of the ensemble exhibited wonderful performances as well without stealing focus from their fellow actors.

Shaleah Adkisson is marvelous both as a long-suffering maid and wife in the first act and a neighborhood activist in the second act. Her voice can drip honey and cut like a knife at the same time. Katie Cunningham plays an expectant mother in both acts. In the first act her character is deaf, while in the second act her character can hear perfectly (but may wish there things she didn’t hear). Shifting from prim to relaxed in the two acts, Cunningham creates two distinct characterizations on stage.

LeeAnne Hutchison’s first act housewife is appropriately daffy and warm. In the second act, she transforms herself into a self-absorbed, calculating professional by use of a different voice, demeanor and posture. As Hutchinson’s husband in the first act Robert Ierardi portrays a man wrestling with emotions and changing times while trying his best to continue to provide for and protect his wife. His interaction with Hutchison during the opening of the first act captured the dichotomy of comfort and confrontation found in long-married couples.

Ryan Barry’s harried priest in the first act is doing his best to be helpful and remain calm in the midst of a sea of turmoil. In the second act he is a bemused, detached attorney trying to facilitate conversation between opposing parties. Though the reactions are different, in both acts his character is pushed to a brink long after other characters have been. In many ways, he is a barometer for the audience. Lawrence Evans has little stage time in the first act but creates a memorable character as a husband just trying to be helpful. In the second act Evans has more opportunity to shine as a neighborhood resident working to preserve his community, and perhaps understand his wife as much as he is trying to understand some strangers.

In the first act, Jason O’Connell plays Karl, a character who appeared in A Raisin in the Sun. While not trying to justify his racist actions, this play fleshes out Karl. O’Connell’s characterization is not a broad villain, but it does not try to make excuses for his beliefs. He also handles some physical comedy in a manner that is both humorous but also completely in character. In the second act, O’Connell’s character is more naïve on some levels as he is confronting aspects of himself and his wife (played by Cunningham) that had never been considered.

Rounding out the cast is David Tennal, an alum of the Rep’s Summer Musical Theatre Intensive, in a small but pivotal role at the end of the play. It is always nice to see students who came up through the Rep’s SMTI program hold their own on mainstage productions. It was nice to see Rep veterans Adkisson (Avenue Q), Evans (Fences) and O’Connell (All My Sons, Sherlock Holmes, Frost/Nixon) return and create memorable characters. Based on their performances in this play, hopefully Cunningham, Ierardi, Hutchison and Barry will be back in the future.

The seamless direction provided by Baker well-serves the actors and Norris’ masterful script. It is obvious that in rehearsal Baker created an atmosphere of trust and collaboration among the acting company. Together he and the actors have mined the play for its much needed humor. But they did not settle for cheap laughs. The play uses laughter to relieve tension. But it does not shy away from making the audience or the characters onstage uncomfortable. Baker and his cast know when to let the feelings of unease simmer. In Baker’s hands, the play never seems pious but it does show the challenges of building and maintaining a community when often well-meaning people have competing perspectives.

While the acting ensemble could have undoubtedly sold the play performing in street clothes in a bare stage, luckily they did not have to. The physical design supported the play. Mike Nichols’ set is in many ways another character in the play. He has created a pre-war two story house. While the play is set in a fictional Chicago neighborhood, the actions in the play could easily take place in any mid- to large-sized American city over the past half century. In the first act, Nichols’ house is the epitome of the emerging middle class. The second act shows the same house after years of neglect. With only a few physical changes, the difference is stark.

Yslan Hicks’ costumes ably showcase not only the different time periods but also the different stations in life of the characters. Through exacting details, her costumes enable the characters to look like they have stepped out of magazine photos from the two eras. Yael Lubetzky’s subtle lighting adds atmosphere to the play. The early morning shadows cast in the final moments of the play were particularly memorable. As sound designer, Allan Branson not only set the mood with music but had the unenviable task of ensuring that numerous actors talking over each other throughout the play could still be heard. Lynda J. Kwallek has a knack for finding props which tell the audience about the characters and their stations in life more than spoken words can do.

Whether we know it or not (or are willing to admit it) Clybourne Park is all our story. There are times we each feel like an outsider, a protector, a denier, a fighter, a detached observer, a victim or a peacemaker. The play offers no easy answers or pat conclusions. In fact it’s one message seems to be that unless we continue to have these messy conversations we will never move forward.

We must respect each other and see value in each other. But we must not be afraid to engage each other in meaningful and often complicated dialogue. If that doesn’t happen, sectors of the community will continue to move back and forth sliding past each other like some sort of societal amoebas without respecting differences.

A final note, some of the language in Clybourne Park is harsh. There are words said on the stage that could definitely offend theatregoers. But the use is not gratuitous. It is to highlight how words do matter, but also ideas. Audience members should not let their distaste for those words detract from their play-going experience. Kudos to Rep Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp for choosing this play for Little Rock audiences.

Little Rock audiences need to pay a visit to Clybourne Park. It runs only through February 9. For those who want to laugh and think, this is one property not to be missed.

Due to a cut and paste error, an earlier version of this review inadvertently omitted a section on Robert Ierardi’s performance. This review has also been edited because the author of it is constantly tweaking his writing.