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: 1994’s LOST IN YONKERS

Over the years, the Arkansas Rep has produced several Neil Simon plays and musicals.

In October 1994, Arkansas Rep produced Simon’s only play to win a Pulitzer, Lost in Yonkers.  Though darker in tone than many of his plays, it still provided a host of laughs.

The two boys at the center of the story were played by future filmmaker Graham Gordy and future Broadway producer Will Trice.  The matriarch who presides over the action was played by Anne Sheldon, a Little Rock native who’d left the city after marrying during World War II.

Others in the cast were Lori Wilner, Clif Morts, Elizabeth Aiello and Ed Romanoff.  The production was directed by William Gregg, a guest director at the Rep.  Mike Nichols provided the scenic design, while Don Bolinger was the costume designer.

 

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD opens new theatre in 1988

While audience members were tasked with solving THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD at Arkansas Rep in October 1988, they also had the chance to explore the new home for the Rep. This Tony winning musical marked the opening of the new Main Street location after twelve years in the converted church adjacent to MacArthur Park.

The move to Main Street had been in the works for over three years. It was announced around the same time The Mystery of Edwin Drood was being rehearsed for its original Off Broadway production. In the interim, this musical whodunnit written and composed by Rupert Holmes had transferred to Broadway and won the 1986 Tony Award for Best Musical.

Terry Sneed and Theresa Quick led the cast, which was directed by Cliff Fannin Baker. Others in the cast of 29 included Art Arney, Don Bolinger, Richard Glover, Julianne Griffin, Vivian Morrison, and Debbie Weber.

Sharon Douglas was the pianist and music director. Others on the creative team included Keith Belli (set), Kathy Gray (lighting), and Mark Hughes (costumes).

Audience members actually had three mysteries to solve each night: who killed Drood, who was disguising themself as Dick Datchery, and which lovers would be united at the end.  This meant the actors had to learn a variety of options and endings, and be prepared to perform them at a moment’s notice.

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: 1986’s ‘NIGHT, MOTHER

An Oscar winner performing on the Arkansas Rep stage is a rarity. To have one playing the same role she played in a national tour — well, that has only happened once.

From April 17 to May 4, 1986, Mercedes McCambridge starred in the Rep’s production of Marsha Norman’s two-hander ‘night, Mother. In 1984, she headlined the national tour of this same production.

McCambridge and Rep founder/Artistic Director Cliff Fannin Baker had been discussing potential project ideas for a few years.  In the mid-1980s, she lived in Little Rock. Though by 1986 she had moved away, she was glad to return for this project.

The show was directed by Baker and co-starred Cathey Crowell Sawyer.  In his Gazette review Jack Weatherly noted that it was Sawyer’s finest performance to date. Of McCambridge he opined she was “lighting up those recesses of our lives with humor and humanity.”

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1985’s CRIMES OF THE HEART

Since at least Chekov, playwrights have been fascinated with a trio of women at the center of a play.  Southerner Beth Henley put her own twist on this concept with her 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner Crimes of the Heart.

Focusing on the three Magrath sisters and their assorted friends in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, the story looks at how they come together because one of the sisters is accused of shooting her estranged husband.  A comedy with some dark undertones, it was a hit Off Broadway and then transferred to Broadway after winning the Pulitzer.

Arkansas Rep presented it in April 1985.  The cast featured Evelyn Carol Case, Cathey Crowell Sawyer and Laurel Anne White as the three sisters.  Maggie Murphy, Jeff Bailey and Mark Johnson rounded out the cast.  The show was directed by Cliff Baker, who had  directed the same show (with a different cast and design team) at the Alley Theatre earlier in 1985.