NINE a 10

imageOne would be hard pressed to find a stronger volunteer theatre production than the Studio Theatre’s current offering of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopjt’s Tony Award winning musical NINE. (The term “volunteer” theatre is used because “amateur,” “community,” or “non-professional” belie the quality of the production.)

Rafael Colon Castanera’s production is both visually stunning and full of surprises. The cohesive ensemble is up to the task of telling this compelling, complex tale in an entertaining and enchanting manner. They find the humor and humanity in these sometimes thinly sketched characters and scenarios.

The anchor of the production is James Norris as auteur Guido Contini. He deftly morphs from reality to fantasy while juggling numerous romantic conquests and searching for fulfillment. It is a challenging role because Guido is, at the same time, supposed to be worthy of the audience’s sympathy while also behaving in a unsympathetic manner.  Norris had many touching moments as the man-child desperately seeking something. A fearless actor, he threw himself into the role whether the moment called for romance, humor or desperation. These different moods are also reflected in the wide range of singing styles required of the role–all of which he handled skillfully.

As the younger version of Guido, Price Clark showed maturity beyond his years. His performance of “Getting Tall” at the end wrapped up the show as a lesson to the audience about the challenges and opportunities of getting older. Clark also had a wonderful rapport with both Norris (acting as a mentor to his older self) and Beth Ross as his mother (showing love, respect and embarrassment).

Ross was one of many in the cast who had the chance to showcase a wider range of their talents. Often cast in wisecracking roles, she here displayed a maternal warmth and daffiness as well as weariness and frustration. Likewise Julie Atkins often plays long-suffering, noble women. In this show she had the chance to show her comic skills and her bawdiness as an all-knowing spa proprietor. Often playing heartbreaking heroines, Erin Martinez zealously attacked her role as a tambourine-wielding unapologetically, earthy strumpet.

Antisha Anderson-Scruggs was audacious and bodacious as one of Guido’s mistresses. She was bawdy but never crass as she flaunted her sexuality. Anderson-Scruggs also displayed depth as her character faced disappointment with resolve and a new-found strength.

As another mistress, Rachel Warnick elegantly captured the persona of a classic European beauty who is no longer content with being a trophy. She was grateful and forgiving toward Guido, but resolute nonetheless to pursue her new life.

Mary Ann Hansen put the gal in Gallic as a gamine French film producer. She relished her moments in the spotlight and evoked a bygone era as she celebrated a past career (and joyously took the audience along on this reflective journey). Amy Young and K. L. Martin played her entourage; the pair enjoyably insulted, threatened and otherwise antagonized Guido each in her own way.

Elena McKinnis, Bailey Lamb and Moriah Patterson were a protean trio who functioned as a sort of Greek chorus (or was it Italian chorus?) playing various parts and keeping action moving.  Together with Martin, these performers showcased their dancing talents as showgirls during the musical within a musical numbers.

Heather Smith was Guido’s long-suffering wife. While clearly in love with him, she was also weary of her stagnant life.  A high point of her performance was her sung defense of him to the press in which she is convincing them of his sincerity, while also trying to convince herself.

As director, Castanera elicited layered performances from each of the actors and kept the action moving seamlessly.  As designer, he used a deceptively simple, classically elegant scenic design as a framework for the action. Tyler Herron’s transformative lighting and Greg Wirges’ evocative sound design reflected the many different moods and settings.

The orchestra led by music director Bob Bidewell played almost nonstop through this cinematic, nearly operatic production. This lush score has many moods which were ably performed without overpowering the actors.

The costumes by Castanera are almost worth the cost of admission by themselves. Each character was uniquely clad in black attire that reflected their character down to minute details. It is safe to say this show has the most intricate and lavish costumes of any volunteer theatre production in Little Rock history. For the “film” sequence, Castanera mixed some white in with the black and created fantastic, over the top ensembles (again often with unique and humorous touches). The wigs by Robert Pickens were the same quality as the costumes. Together, wigs and costumes helped define the characters without distracting from the actors’ performances.

As a musical, NINE has challenges. In the wrong hands the characters can be vapid and unlikeable.  It is also vocally demanding. Much like the source material (a semi-autobiographical Italian film), it has moments of absurdity and a plot which wavers between linear and concept. But NINE also has enormous warmth, heart and joy. The Studio Theatre’s production captures these merits without betraying the complexities of the characters. NiINE is another step forward in the development of both The Studio Theatre as well as volunteer theatre in Central Arkansas.

NINE continues April 4, 9-12 and 16-19. Performances are at 7pm except for Sundays, which are at 2pm.

NINE next at Studio Theatre

The 1982 Tony winning Best Musical Nine takes the stage oimagef the Studio Theatre tonight to begin a three week run.

Written by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit, and based on Fellini’s autobiographical 8 1/2, it tells the story of Guido Contini, a filmmaker, and the women in his life.

This production is directed by Rafael Colon Castanera with musical direction by Bob Bidewell.  Castanera also designed the set and costumes as well as co-choreographed the musical with Bailey Lamb.  Tyler Herron designed the lighting and served as assistant director.  Robert Pickens designed the wigs, Greg Wirges designed the sound, and Cara Smith is the stage manager.

The cast includes Antisha Anderson-Scruggs, Julie Atkins, Price Clark, Mary Ann Hansen, Bailey Lamb, Elena McKinnis, K. L. Martin, Erin Martinez, James Norris, Moriah Patterson, Beth Ross, Heather Smith, Rachel Warnick and Amy Young.

Performances are tonight (an opening night gala), Saturday (April 4), April 9 through 12 and April 16 through 19.  Showtimes are 7pm on Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2pm on Sundays.

 

Les Miserables Continues at Ark Rep

replesmizTwenty-seven years ago today, on March 12, 1987, Les Miserables opened on Broadway.  The production won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. It eventually ran for 6,680 performances.  After being revived on Broadway in 2006 and spawning an Oscar winning movie in 2012, another Broadway revival is currently in New York.

Arkansas residents do not have to travel to New York (or Netflix) to see Les Miserables.  The Arkansas Repertory Theatre has brought the production back to life on its Little Rock stage.  Following an acclaimed 2008 production, Rep Producing Artistic Director Robert Hupp has again directed the show for Arkansas audiences.  It opened last Friday night and runs through April 6.

Douglas Webster and Christopher Carl return to their roles of protagonist and antagonist as Jean Valjean and Javert, respectively.  Joining them are Christopher Behmke as the romantic revolutionary Marius, Matthew Hugg as pint-sized revolutionary Gavroche, Karenssa LeGear as Valjean’s adoptive daughter Cosette, Mary Little as the waif Eponine, Caleb Reese as revolutionary leader Enjolras, Danielle Erin Rhodes as the doomed Fantine, Sydni Whitfield as Young Cosette, and Michael Sample & Terey Summers and the scheming Thenardiers. Others in the cast are Kelsie Adkisson, Alex Bush, Price Clark, Monica Clark-Robinson, Darren Drone, Hannah Eakin, Marisa Kirby, Bailey Lamb, Greg Robinson, Makayla Shope, Alyssa Sowers, Benjamin Stidam, Billy Clark Taylor and Paul Thiemann.

In addition to Hupp as director, the creative team includes choreography by Robert Kolby Harper and music direction by Mark Binns. The design team features Mike Nichols (scenery), Rafael Colon Castanera (costumes), Yael Lubetzky (lighting), Allan Branson (sound), Lynda J. Kwallek (props) and Rob Pickens (wigs).

Performances are Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm.  During the run, there are Tuesday performances at 7pm on March 18 and April 1.

Final Weekend to go SINGIN’ ON A STAR

Tonight at 7 and tomorrow at 2 and 7 are the final three times to catch the Arkansas Rep Young Artist production of Singin’ on a Star. The show is all about the actor’s journey from stardust to stardom, set to a toe-tapping soundtrack of modern song selections from the top pop charts and the Great White Way.

The production is directed by Nicole Capri, who is the Rep’s Resident Director and Director of Education.  Karen Q. Clark serves as Music Director.  Choreography is provided by Capri, Stacy Hawking, Marisa Kirby and Stephen K. Stone.  The design team includes Mike Nichols (sets), Shelly Hall (costumes), Dan Kimble (lighting), Lynda J. Kwallek (props) and Allan Branson (sound).

The cast is composed of of over 50 junior high and high school students who will literally fill the stage with their acting, singing and dancing.  They include: Skylar Bartlett, Cross Brandon, Matthew Carey, Calvin Chester, Cayla Christian, Jacob Clanton, Drew Clark, Andrew Curzon, Drew Dame, Spencer Davis, Anna Bliss Dean, C.J. Fowler, Jennifer Fuller, Melody Garrett, Zach Graham, Kayla Gray, Katie Greer, Christian Hickingbotham, Matthew Hugg, Sydney Ippolito, Mary Kate Jackson, Grace Jackson, Nia Jackson, Jackson James and Dalton Johnson.

Others in the cast include Riley Knight, Bailey Lamb, Julia Landfair, Maddie Lentz, Malik Marshall, Cass Martin, Annie McCurdy, Damon McKinnis, Elena McKinnis, Helen Melhorn, Henry Melhorn, Ella Moody, Angela  Morgan, Michael Myers, Annie Niswanger, Yasmin Newman, Caroline Osborn, Adrianne Owings, Cassidy Ratliff, Marina Redlich, Molly Russ, Kennedy Sample, Sterling Saul, Allie Scott, Jake Scott, Abby Shourd, Heidi Sohl, Alyssa Sowers, Sheffield Spence, Shelby Spooner, Mary Katelin Ward, Mia Waymack, Jhonika Wright and Charl Young.

For some observations from one of the summer performances of this production, click here.

Start Celebrating with CABARET

Argenta Community Theater's CabaretThe Argenta Community Theatre is inaugurating producing its own productions with the Tony winning Cabaret.  Unfortunately, if you don’t already have a ticket, you won’t be able to “come to the Cabaret” because this production has been sold out for over a week.

Cabaret, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1967, is a musical adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories” and John van Druten’s I Am a Camera.  It features a book by Joe Masteroff and score by John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Producer Vince Insalaco and director Robert Hupp have assembled a cast and creative team to transform the Argenta Community Theatre into the Kit Kat Klub.  The choreographers are Marisa Kirby and Christen Burke Pitts with Kurt Kennedy serving as musical director.

Kirby leads the cast as tragic heroine Sally Bowles. Cipher-like scribe Cliff Bradshaw is played by Michael Klucher.  Brandon Higdem is the leering MC of the Kit Kat Klub.  Also starring are Tricia Spione and Alan Rackley as a mismatched pair of older Germans struggling with their relationship in the midst of the onset of the Third Reich.

Others in the cast are David Weatherly, Jessica Smith, Carl Carter, Matt Morley, Kris Waltermire, Dylan Dugger, Sydney Ippolito, Emily Karnes, Bailey Lamb, RaeLeigh Narisi, Rachel Powell and Brittany “Sparkles” Rorie.

Insalaco hopes to produce a musical and a play at the Argenta Community Theatre each year.