Little Rock Look Back: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Gov. & Mrs. Roosevelt with Sen. Robinson en route to FDR taking oath as president.

Gov. & Mrs. Roosevelt with Sen. Robinson en route to FDR taking oath as president.

On January 30, 1882, future U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born.  In 1936, he visited Little Rock as part of a statewide tour in conjunction with Arkansas’ Centennial celebration.  While in the state he spent time outside of Hot Springs at Couchwood, the vacation home of Arkansas Power & Light founder Harvey Couch, who was the chair of the Centennial activities.

In honor of President Roosevelt’s visit, a portion of Highway 365 in Little Rock was designated Roosevelt Road. He followed part of that road while in the Capital City before making a public appearance.

President Roosevelt’s address on June 10, recounted Arkansas’ territorial and statehood history. At the end he paid tribute to his Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson.  The Senator was a friend and confidant who often led the charge for FDR programs in congress.  Indeed, it would be New Deal programs which would allow for the construction of a municipal auditorium in Little Rock, which would be named in memory of Sen. Robinson after his death in the summer of 1937.  (As the Democratic leader of the Senate, it had been Robinson who accompanied FDR and Eleanor in the motorcade to the 1933 Presidential inauguration ceremony.)  A quote by President Roosevelt upon learning of Senator Robinson’s death adorns a wall of Robinson Center.

FDR’s visit to Arkansas had political implications as well.  The late Senator Huey Long of neighboring Louisiana had been arguably FDR’s biggest adversary in Washington.  Long was very popular in rural areas of Arkansas and had campaigned for Hattie Caraway when she ran for re-election to the Senate, to the dismay of many of Arkansas’ Democratic establishment.  Harvey Couch had worked to bring about a detente between FDR and Long prior to the latter’s assassination in 1935.  But between a lingering mistrust of FDR by Long supporters and discontent from some sectors based on New Deal programs, it was important for FDR to shore up Democratic support in Arkansas.  At the time the state had nine electoral votes.

FDR would return to Central Arkansas in 1943 to review troops at the military facility named for Sen. Robinson.  That would be his final visit to Arkansas before his death in April 1945.

As a character in the musical Annie, FDR has been on the stage of Robinson on numerous occasions.

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Arf – Celebrity Attractions brings ANNIE here this weekend

AnnieCelebrity Attractions is proud to present the new U.S. National Tour of ANNIE February 19-21 at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center.   Directed by original lyricist and director Martin Charnin for the 19th time, this production of ANNIE is a brand new physical incarnation of the iconic Tony Award®-winning original.

ANNIE has a book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. All three authors received 1977 Tony Awards® for their work.   Choreography is by Liza Gennaro, who will incorporate selections from her father Peter Gennaro’s 1977 Tony Award®-winning choreography.

The production features a 25 member company: in the title role of Annie is Heidi Gray, an 11-year-old actress from the Augusta, GA area, making her tour debut. Gilgamesh Taggett stars as Oliver Warbucks.  In the role of Miss Hannigan is Lynn Andrews.  Also starring in the tour are Chloe Tiso as Grace, Garrett Deagon as Rooster, Lucy Werner as Lily and Jeffrey B. Duncan as FDR.  Macy and Sunny, rescue terriers, star as Sandy.

The orphans are Sage Bentley as Tessie, Bridget Carly Marsh as July, Molly Rose Meredith as Pepper, Emily Moreland as Kate, Annabelle Wachtel as Molly and Casey Watkins as Duffy.

The original production of ANNIE opened April 21, 1977 at the Alvin Theatre and went on to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, seven Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, the Grammy for Best Cast Show Album and seven Tony Awards®, including Best Musical, Best Book (Thomas Meehan) and Best Score (Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin).  The show remains one of the biggest Broadway musical hits ever.  It ran for 2,377 performances after it first opened, and has been performed in 28 languages and has been running somewhere around the world for 37 years.

The beloved score for ANNIE includes “Maybe,” “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” “Easy Street,” “I Don’t Need Anything But You” and the eternal anthem of optimism, “Tomorrow.”

Welcomed by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, ANNIE takes the stage February 19-21 at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center, located on the campus of Maumelle High School.  The performance schedule is Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are now on sale and are priced $32, $52, and $67.  Tickets are available by phone at (501) 244-8800 or (800) 982-ARTS (2787) or online at www.ticketmaster.com.  Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more by calling (501) 492-3312.

Get social with Celebrity Attractions by becoming a fan on Facebook.com/BWayLR.  Follow the Little Rock engagement of ANNIE on Twitter.com/BwayLittleRock or join the conversation using #AnnieLRANNIE is a part of the 2015-2016 Broadway Season which concludes with RAGTIME.   Celebrity Attractions is proud to have KATV and the Maumelle Area Chamber of Commerce as sponsors for this spectacular season.  For more information, visit www.CelebrityAttractions.com.

Before Phantom arrives in LR, Celebrity Attractions offers 4 shows for 2015-16 season

201516 CALRCelebrity Attractions invites you to discover Broadway with the 2015–‐2016 Broadway Season at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center.

The adventure begins as four national Broadway tours take the stage: Celebrate the King himself in ELVIS LIVES. Deck the halls with Broadway and Christmas classics in NEIL BERG’S BROADWAY HOLIDAY. Sing along with the world’s best–‐loved orphan, ANNIE and travel back in time with 13 time Tony® Award nominated musical, RAGTIME.

“We are excited to be able to continue bringing national tours to the Little Rock area during the Robinson Center renovation. The Maumelle Performing Arts Center, located on the Maumelle High School campus, provides an intimate theatrical experience for our patrons,” said Ed. L. Payton, Celebrity Attractions CEO. “We are sure you will become a Broadway fan after discovering our lineup for the Celebrity Attractions’ 2015–2016 Broadway Season.”

ELVIS LIVES October 23–25, 2015 ELVIS LIVES captures the imagination and interest of fans of all ages and all types including Broadway theatregoers, concert lovers and, of course Elvis aficionados. Welcomed by Hutchinson Financial, the theatrical production is an unforgettable multi–‐media and live musical journey across Elvis’ life. Each performer represents Elvis during different stages in his career. The Elvis tribute artists will be joined by a live band, back–‐up singers and dancers, and an Ann–‐Margret tribute artist. Celebrate the King of Rock and Roll in the national hit ELVIS LIVES!

NEIL BERG’S BROADWAY HOLIDAY December 18–20, 2015 This winter Neil Berg’s critically acclaimed musical revue BROADWAY HOLIDAY will deck the halls with Christmas tunes from Broadway scores along with celebrated favorites from Broadway’s hottest shows. Five of Broadway brightest stars direct from New York will take the audience on a journey celebrating the great American songbook, songs from Broadway’s recent blockbusters and Christmas songs to help guarantee you’ll “Have a Merry Little Christmas.” An evening of Broadway stars singing Holiday songs and standards will be the perfect way to warm your heart this Christmas season.

ANNIE February 19–21, 2016 Leapin’ Lizards! The world’s best–‐loved musical will return in time–‐honored form. Directed by original lyricist and director Martin Charnin and choreographed by Liza Gennaro, this production of ANNIE will be a brand new incarnation of the iconic original. Welcomed by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, ANNIE features a book and score by Tony® Award–‐winners Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, ANNIE includes such unforgettable songs as “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “Easy Street,” “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” plus the eternal anthem of optimism, “Tomorrow.” “Overflowing! Big, warm–hearted and funny!” –‐New York Post.

RAGTIME April 15–17, 2016 At the dawn of a new century, everything is changing…and anything is possible. Welcomed by Arkansas Federal Credit Union, RAGTIME will take to the road in all–‐new touring production and is directed and choreographed by Tony nominee Marcia Milgrom Dodge. The stories of an upper–‐class wife, a determined Jewish immigrant and a daring young Harlem musician unfold –‐ set in turn–‐of–‐the–‐century New York –‐–‐ all three united by their desire and belief in a brighter tomorrow. Their compelling stories are set to theatre’s richest and most glorious Tony® Award–‐winning score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. Winning Tony® Awards for Best Book and Best Musical Score, this 13 time Tony® Award nominated musical is a timeless celebration of life –‐ what it could and should be! Welcomed by KATV and the Maumelle Area Chamber of Commerce

Celebrity Attractions’ 2015–2016 Broadway Season is held at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center, located on the campus of Maumelle High School. To guarantee great seats for all four nationally touring Broadway productions, become a Celebrity Attractions’ 2015–2016 Broadway Season Subscriber.

Season Subscriber benefits include many advantages: the best seats at the lowest prices, the same great seats for every show, the ability to buy additional tickets to individual shows before the public, the option to exchange show tickets to another performance before the public on sale and will be among the first to reserve seats in the newly renovated Robinson Center Music Hall for the 2016–17 Season which features Cameron Mackintosh’s spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

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.

ANNIE (1982 version) at the Ron Robinson Theater tonight

Leapin’ Lizards, the John Huston-directed 1982 version of ANNIE is being shown on the big screen at the Ron Robinson Theater tonight.  The film starts at 7pm; admission is $5. 

Based on the 1977 Tony winning musical and the 1930s Harold Gray comic strip, the film stars Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, Raymond Thorne, and Geoffrey Holder. Playing the title role is Aileen Quinn.  

In the depths of the 1930’s, Annie is a fiery young orphan girl who must live in a miserable orphanage run by the tyrannical Miss Hannigan. Her seemingly hopeless situation changes dramatically when she is selected to spend a short time at the residence of the wealthy munitions industrialist, Oliver Warbucks. Quickly, she charms the hearts of the household staff but can Annie charm the seemingly cold-hearted Mr. Warbucks or discover what happened to her real parents? 

A Sparklejollytwinklejingley Show!

THEREP_ELF (no credits)-page-001The holidays are here. And if you need to get into the Christmas spirit, I suggest you buy, beg or bargain to get a ticket to see Buddy the Elf and his friends in the musical Elf which is playing at the Arkansas Rep through January 4.

This frothy, fun, friendly show has but one aim – to entertain.  And how it does succeed.

With a smart, witty, heart-filled book by Tony winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone, TV’s “Slings & Arrows”), the story works on several different levels. (Incidentally, Meehan takes a swipe at his other Christmas-NYC set musical Annie with a joke, while Martin seems to be aping The Drowsy Chaperone by having the story open with a man in a chair). The score by Tony nominees Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar (The Wedding Singer) ranges from toe-tapping to heartstring-pulling.

Elf is, of course, based upon the eponymously named film.  Disclaimer – I’ve not seen the movie.  I do not get Will Ferrell’s appeal, so steer clear of most movies starring him.  But love of the movie is not necessary to enjoy the stage musical. The book, score, cast and production values take the audience on a wild sleigh ride of holiday fun regardless of familiarity with the source material.

As Buddy the Elf, Ethan Paulini is a chief reason for the show’s appeal. He is rarely off stage, and somehow manages to keep a high level of energy throughout. His ebullient Buddy is both naïve and knowing. Whether singing, dancing or acting, he never overplays the part or goes for cheap laughs.  Through his performance, one believes that he really does charm his way into everyone’s hearts regardless of their age or gender.

As the object of Buddy’s affection, it is a joy to watch Alyssa Gorgone’s Jovie transform from guarded to glowing.  She deftly handled her songs and dances.  Gorgone and Paulini have a nice chemistry together as the court each other.

David Hess moves from blustery to boasting in his portrayal of Buddy’s dad.  Anna Lise Jensen is a delight as his long-suffering wife whose struggle to find her own place mirror’s Buddy’s quest.  As Buddy’s younger half-brother Price Clark is a joy to watch. He is neither precocious nor cloying. Instead, he is a believable kid who is concerned about his parents and is thrilled to have a new brother.

Tessa Faye stops the show as Deb the secretary as she comically aids Buddy and leads the office in a rousing production number. Kyron Turner and Tanner Wilson make the most of their scenes as harried employees hoping for a holiday miracle. J. B. Adams bookends the show as an avuncular, folksy Santa Claus.

From beleaguered New Yorkers to bored Macy’s elves to depressed Santas, the ensemble fill the stage with delightful characters. Hannah Eakin, Allison Stearns, Jason Samuel, Jimmy Kieffer, Anthony Bryant, Chris McNiff, Jack Doyle, Samantha Harrington, Tatiana H. Green, Marisa Kirby, Eric Mann, Kennedy Sample and Mary Katelin Ward have enough vigor, vim and verve to make the cast seem much larger than it actually is.

The elves are played by the younger members of the cast. These kids are having fun – and why not? They get to spend the show in two of the most magical settings imaginable: The North Pole and New York City at Christmas.  They very ably perform their production numbers and create memorable characters without stealing focus from Buddy and Santa.  Addison Dowdy, Gunner Gardner, Reagan Hodson, Anna Beth Jeane, Ethan Marbaise, Max McCurdy, Danny Phillips, Grace Pitts, Corbin Pitts, Niall Prochazka, Marisol Sela, and Madison Stolzer were welcome additions to the production.  Most of these performers are seasoned veterans of the Rep’s Summer Musical Theatre Intensive. They show that their talent works in the wintertime too.

Nicole Capri directed Elf with a light, comic touch. She neither glosses over nor smothers the audience with the heart in the show, she trusted her performers and the story to bring it out.  She keeps the show moving at a brisk pace while allowing for enough quiet moments that it does not seem frantic.  Marisa Kirby’s creative, crowd-pleasing choreography put the actors through their paces.  Together Capri and Kirby fashioned production numbers which allowed each performer to stand out as an individual character while still part of a seamless ensemble.

Elf’s magical world was ably served by Shelly Hall’s colorful costumes, Dan Kimble’s lighting, Allan Branson’s sound and Lynda J. Kwallek’s props.  One of the joys of the show is undoubtedly the songs. Credit for that goes largely to Mark Binns, the show’s musical director.  He leads the orchestra as they play the peppy, tuneful score. He also deserves credit for helping the actors maximize their sounds as they perform the songs while executing Kirby’s inventive choreography.

Though based on a 2000s movie, Elf is really a throwback to 1950s and 1960s workplace musicals. There are the buffoonly bullying boss, the comic-relief secretary, the dancing office boys and office girls, the disconnected wife and kids, and, of course, the outsider hero who saves the day and wins the heart of the leading lady. The show also offers dancing Santas, prancing elves, and a travelogue’s worth of New York City settings.

Elf doesn’t ask the audience to think too hard or to get wrapped up in cloying sentimentality. It merely wants to entertain as it allows the audience an escape from daily strife.

No matter your holiday of choice at this time of the year, the Rep is giving audiences a present with Elf!

ROCKing the TONYS – Bill Berloni

Rock the TonysBerloniBill Berloni

Little Rock connection: Conceived the Arkansas Rep world premiere of Because of Winn Dixie and was the animal trainer and animal director for the production.

Tony Awards connection: Received a Tony Honors in 2011 for his career of training animals for Broadway productions. His first project was the original production of of 1977 Best Musical winner Annie. Tonight his 16th Broadway credit opens (Bullets over Broadway) and Sunday his 17th Broadway show opens (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill).