Robinson Redux March

Blackstone adWhile Robinson Center Music Hall is closed for renovations, the Culture Vulture blog is taking a look back at previous bookings in the facility each month.

March 1940 was the first full month that Robinson Auditorium was open.  The month started with Blackstone the magician in performances from March 2 through 4. In addition to his appearance touted by the auditorium, Muswick Beverage & Cigar Company promoted his appearance, and the fact that he endorsed Budweiser beer.  Later that month, appearances included the Shrine Circus, the AAU girls basketball championship, and the Saint Louis Symphony.

March 1950 was a particularly busy month. It featured singer Vaughn Monroe on the 6th and the Arkansas State Symphony playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on the 7th.  On the lower level, a circus took up residency from the 7th through 10th.  Back upstairs in the music hall, Ballet Theatre visited performing Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” featuring ballerina Nora Kaye and conductor Max Goberman.  The month concluded on the 27th with James Dunn starring in the Pulitzer Prize winning Harvey.

In 1955, Jose Greco and His Spanish Dancers entertained audiences on March 7. Five years later, the Chicago Ballet was featured on March 26, 1960. Earlier that month (the 16th), Max Rudolf conducted the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. March 1965 feautured the Chicago Opera Ballet (on the 2nd) and an evening of country music stars including Buck Owens and Kitty Wells (on the 10th).

In March 1970, the national tour of the Broadway musical Mame starring Sheila Smith launched the month on the 6th and 7th. Later that month The Florida Boys were in concert. March 1975 saw much activity at Robinson Center. Guy Lombardo and his orchestra appeared on the 2nd and Richard Fredricks, baritone, gave a recital on the 4th, under the auspices of the Community Concert Series. On March 5 & 6, a statewide touring production of South Pacific played at Robinson. Produced by Vince Insalaco, it starred Judy Pryor (now Judy Trice) as Little Rock native Nellie Forbush. The month closed out with the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof.

March 1980 saw Dawn Wells starring in Neil Simon’s Chapter Two on the 8th. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra performed on the 15th and 16th with pianist Lorin Hollander as guest artist. Five years later, Marilyn Horne appeared with the ASO on March 2, 1985. At the same time that evening, the Shriners Ball was taking place on the lower level. Later that month a national tour of Sophisticated Ladies stopped by Robinson on the 12th. The ASO returned on March 20 & 21 with pianist Garrick Ohlsson.

The Sharks and the Jets lept on the stage on March 20, 1990, as a tour of West Side Story came to Robinson Center. The month concluded with pianist Jose Carlos Cocarelli in concert with the ASO.

Marilyn Horne returned to Little Rock, ten years and one day after her previous appearance, and performed with the ASO again on March 3, 1995. The month also included The Will Rogers Follies on March 10-12, Jazz Explosion II (with George Duke, Dianne Reeves, Phil Perry, Howard Hewett, and George Howard) on March 15, and the ASO in concert with cellist Jeffrey Solow on March 18 & 19. On March 22, the musical Raisin was performed. The cast included Peabo Bryson, Jeffrey Osborne and Lynette Hawkins.

As the 2000s rolled around, Robinson Center continued to feature an eclectic mix. In March 2000, Ann Hampton Callaway performed with the ASO on March 4 & 5. Later that month the original cast of Red, White & Tuna played at Robinson from March 14 through 19. In 2005, the national tour of Mamma Mia! played at Robinson from March 1-6. Later that month the ASO performed Broadway a la Carte with an eveningn of songs from the Great White Way (on March 18 & 19).

In 2010, the ASO performed a concert version of Porgy & Bess on March 12 & 13. It was the first time that title had ever been performed in its entirity in Arkansas. Irish dance took the stage the next night as Lord of the Dance took up residence at Robinson Center.

Robinson Redux – February

grand opening adHere are some of the highlights from the annals of the Robinson Center Music Hall nee Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  This entry looks at bookings from Februarys in years ending with an 0 or 5.

The building was officially dedicated on February 16, 1940.  A few days earlier a children’s theatre troupe had entertained school kids with a performance in the music hall.  Also that month high school basketball continued in the exhibition hall.  The month had kicked off with a much more glamorous event as the Movie Ball took place in the exhibition hall.

The year 1945 featured a ecumenical Christian Youth Rally on February 4, a concert featuring Tito Guizar on February 7, the operetta Blossom Time on February 8 and the long-running comedy Life with Father on February 19.   In 1950, Robinson’s offerings ran from the Grand Ole Opry featuring Hank Williams (February 5), to Dick Contino (February 8) to the magician Blackstone (February 10 & 11) as well as the opera Il Trovatore (February 15) and a recital featuring Mrs. Rece Price (February 21).

By the mid 1950s, the touring business was changing.  The only notable booking at Robinson in February 1955 was on February 20 as it featured the Duke of Paducah and a little known singer from Mississippi named Elvis Presley.  Five years later, Jackie Wilson and Jesse Belvin headlined a concert on February 5, 1960. The Venable Quartet and several other gospel groups performed on February 12 and the Beaux Arts Bal de Tete took place on February 19.  In 1965, Donald Voorhees and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra were in concert on February 21.

February 1970 showed much more activity.  Husband and wife Phil Ford and Mimi Hines starred in the national tour of I Do! I Do! on February 6 & 7. That show had been a hit on Broadway in the 1966-1967 season. Another hit from that season, Cabaret, played on February 19 & 20 with Tandy Cronyn starring.  In between, contralto Bernadette Greevy presented a recital.

Musician Jerry Jeff Walker performed at Robinson on February 23, 1975.  Earlier that month (February 19), the national tour of Pippin stopped by with Barry Williams (aka Greg Brady) in the title role.  Five years later, Ballet Arkansas welcomed Cynthia Gregory and Patrick Bissell in a performance on February 7, 1980. Later that month Mason Williams and his Bluegrass Band performed with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra on February 23.  The next two nights, a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar took the stage.

David Copperfield kicked off February 1985 with two shows on the 1st.  The next day the musical The Cotton Patch Gospel was performed.  Musican Carman performed on February 25.  In February 1990, Peabo Bryson and jazz extraordinaire Billy Mitchell shared the stage on February 22.

In 1995, the focus was on music.  There was “An Evening with John Bayless” on February 7 as part of the Greater Little Rock Community Concert Association.  On February 11, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra presented an evening of music of Rodgers & Hammerstein.  A few days later on February 17, various musical groups presented an evening of gospel music. The next night, Gladys Knight shook the house in a concert.  The month ended on February 28 with Nancy Griffith and the Blue Moon Orchestra. A February 8 concert with Della Reese was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

Five years later, highlights included a tour of Camelot on February 15 – 18, and a staged concert version of the opera La Boheme presented by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  In 2005, Kenny Loggins performed with the Arkansas Symphony on the 11 & 12. The ASO also presented an all Tchaikovsky concert with Jon Kimura Parker on piano.  Earlier in the month, President George W. Bush hosted a town hall forum on Social Security at Robinson Center.

In 2010, the ASO Valentine Pops concert featured Christiane Noll and Doug LaBrecque.  From February 16-18 STOMP rang out throughout Robinson.  The month ended on a more quieter note as the ASO and Philippe Quint presented the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius.