GUYS AND DOLLS rolls in to Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre this summer

Logo.jpgGuys and Dolls is the musical in the 2019 season of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre.

This self-described “Musical Fable of Broadway” is based on Damon Runyon’s stories. With a score by Frank Loesser, it has a book by Abe Burrows. (Contractual obligations required that Jo Swerling get credit as a co-author, though none of his original draft ended up in the final product.)

Telling the story of a pair of gamblers and their romantic entanglements, it features memorable characters who frequent nightclubs, a storefront mission, Cuba, and a floating crap game in a sewer.  The original production won the 1951 Tony Award for Best Musical.

Performances started last night (June 15) and continue today, June 16 (2:00pm), June 23 (2:00pm), June 25 (7:30pm), June 28 (7:30pm), June 30 (2:00pm AND 7:30pm), July 2 (7:30pm), July 4 (2:00pm), and July 6 (2:00pm AND 7:30pm). The musical is performed on the stage of the Reynolds Performance Hall.

The cast includes Chad Bradford, Emily Wold, Benjamin Reed, Chris Fritzges, Rebecca Brudner, Nick Narcisi, Patrice Phillips, Ben Grimes, Will Stotts, Barry Clifton, Cody Walls, Augustine Nguyen, Braxton Johnson, Kevin Alan Brown, Maureen Toomey, Mikala Hicks, Regean Allen, Stephanie Craven, Dylan Blackwood, Ashley Mahan, Anthony Bryant, Brian Earles, and Moriah Patterson.

The production is directed by Jenna Elser.  A native of Searcy, she is the Artistic Director of Glow Lyric Theatre in South Carolina. She also is Director of Converse Opera Theatre at Converse College.

Rebekah Scallet is the Producing Artistic Director and Mary Ruth Marotte is the Executive Director.

Final Few Days for CHICAGO at Arkansas Rep

Image may contain: indoorThere are just a few performances (each with only a few seats) left in the Arkansas Repertory Theatre production of Chicago. 

The musical—book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse; music by John Kander; lyrics by Fred Ebb—is based on a play of the same name by Chicago Tribune reporter and playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins. Ron Hutchins directs and choreographs Chicago which runs through March 24. Tickets are available online at TheRep.org.

The story, set in the mid-1920s Jazz Age, follows the murder trial of Roxie Hart and her slick-talking attorney, Billy Flynn. Roxie quickly becomes the most popular celebrity in Chicago, dethroning fellow inmate Velma Kelly. This legendary musical takes a tantalizing look at how the allure of fame remains a fundamental motivation for those willing to sacrifice their scruples for the spotlight.

Chicago earned five Tony Awards, a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album, seven Drama Desk Awards and two Olivier Awards (for the British production).

The Arkansas Rep cast includes Adriana Milbrath, Daisy Hobbs, Felicia Dinwiddie, Christopher Johnstone, Matt Allen, Z. Spiegel, Matty Rickard, Erik Joshua Clack, Nicholas Karl Brown, Brian Earles, Anthony Bryant, Frederick Webb Jr., Madeleine Corliss, Joi Hester, Rachel Perlman, Sydney Ippolito, Allison Wilson and Sarita Crawford.

The design and creative team includes Trish Clark, costume designer; Lynda J. Kwallek, properties designer; Mike Nichols, resident set designer/technical director; Michael Rice, musical director; and Marty Vreeland, lighting designer. The production manager is Joshua Marchesi and the stage manager is Colin JB. Phillip T. Perez is the assistant stage manager.

Tickets may be purchased online at TheRep.org, by phone at (501) 378-0405 or by visiting the Box Office at 601 Main Street in Little Rock.

Razzle Dazzle and All that Jazz as CHICAGO opens at Arkansas Rep

Image may contain: indoorArkansas Repertory Theatre opens its 2019 Season with the Tony Award-winning production, Chicago. 

The musical—book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse; music by John Kander; lyrics by Fred Ebb—is based on a play of the same name by Chicago Tribune reporter and playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins. Ron Hutchins will direct and choreograph Chicago which runs Feb. 20-March 24. Tickets are available online at TheRep.org.

The story, set in the mid-1920s Jazz Age, follows the murder trial of Roxie Hart and her slick-talking attorney, Billy Flynn. Roxie quickly becomes the most popular celebrity in Chicago, dethroning fellow inmate Velma Kelly. This legendary musical takes a tantalizing look at how the allure of fame remains a fundamental motivation for those willing to sacrifice their scruples for the spotlight.

Chicago earned five Tony Awards, a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album, seven Drama Desk Awards and two Olivier Awards (for the British production).

The Arkansas Rep cast includes Adriana Milbrath, Daisy Hobbs, Felicia Dinwiddie, Christopher Johnstone, Matt Allen, Z. Spiegel, Matty Rickard, Erik Joshua Clack, Nicholas Karl Brown, Brian Earles, Anthony Bryant, Frederick Webb Jr., Madeleine Corliss, Joi Hester, Rachel Perlman, Sydney Ippolito, Allison Wilson and Sarita Crawford.

The design and creative team includes Trish Clark, costume designer; Lynda J. Kwallek, properties designer; Mike Nichols, resident set designer/technical director; Michael Rice, musical director; and Marty Vreeland, lighting designer. The production manager is Joshua Marchesi and the stage manager is Colin JB. Phillip T. Perez is the assistant stage manager.

Chicago has generous support from Cindy and Chip Murphy.

Tickets start at $20. Discounts are available for full-time students, season subscribers, seniors and military personnel. Tickets may be purchased online at TheRep.org, by phone at (501) 378-0405 or by visiting the Box Office at 601 Main Street in Little Rock. Performances run Feb. 20-March 24. Low-priced previews run Feb. 20-21.

XANADU is magical fun

Edith Hamilton’s Mythology was never like this.  The god, goddesses, muses and mythical creatures that romp and skate through Xanadu are having more fun than I remember from my studies in high school and college.

Based on the 1980 Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly flop of the same name (and lifting some pages from the equally floptastic Clash of the Titans) the stage musical aspires only to be a tongue-in-cheek, eye-winking, breezy, entertainment.  What the book, by Douglas Carter Beane, lacks in plot believability, it makes up with jokes and heart.

xanaduAs main muse Clio and her Australian alter-ego Kira, Courtney Speyer brings a light-hearted touch to the role. She spends most of the show on roller skates, which is no easy task.  Speyer charms not only her leading man but also the audience as she sings, dances and jokes her way through the story.

Kevin Crumpler plays the object of her affection. With bright eyes, a broad gleaming smile, and a cheery personality, he is an obvious match for Speyer. His pleasant and powerful singing voice is nicely used throughout the show as well.  Crumpler has a deft comic timing which was put to good use, especially in moments when Sonny’s dimwittedness and naiveté get the best of him.

Greg Blacklaw is equally at home as a harried businessman as he is as Zeus.  Though he spends more time as the former, the latter is actually fleshed out more by the book. Regardless, Blacklaw brings gravitas when necessary as well as a sense of nostalgia and longing to the roles.

Though everyone in the cast seems to be having fun, undoubtedly the two having the most fun are Amy Young and Gabi Baltzley as two scheming evil muses (representing tragedy and epic poetry).  They mug, leer, giggle, cackle, and chew scenery (Baltzley quite literally) as they sing and zing while throwing stumbling blocks in the way of the hero and heroine.

The cast is rounded out by Tye Davis, Adriana Napolitano, Bridget Davis and Brian Earles. These proteans zip between the 1940s, 1980 and Ancient Greece all the while singing and dancing. Earles had a cameo as Hermes that was both deadpan and saucy — not an easy feat.

Multi-hyphenate Justin A. Pike directed the show. (The artistic director of the Studio Theatre, he also designed the scenery and co-designed the lighting.) He kept the story going briskly without making it seem rushed. With the slight book, it cannot afford to drag lest the audience think too hard. Trusting his actors and audience, he doesn’t skip over the jokes in the book, but he also doesn’t hammer them home. This understanding of audience and of actors’ abilities are marks of his adroitness as a director.

Hannah M. Sawyer’s costumes pay homage to both Ancient Greece and 1980. Let’s face it, with flowing light fabric, there really wasn’t too much different between the two.  Sawyer creates a unique look for each muse in both color and style.  She also created attire which allowed a variety of movement. Her 1940s clothes were classic and avoided the temptation to be caricatures. On the other hand, her mythical creatures were over-the-top and the hilarious.

Bob Bidewell’s music direction maximized the vocal abilities of the singers.  The singers’ voices blended well together in the variety of vocal styles in this score.  This music from 1980 is not the strongest, which offers its own set of challenges. Bidewell and the cast succeeded in making it work on stage.  He also led the four-piece orchestra through Jeff Lynne and John Farrar’s score.

Xanadu plays today at 2pm. It resumes performances July 16 to 18 at 7pm and the 19th at 2pm.  It is like a summer cocktail – frothy, light, a touch sweet and refreshing.

XANADU skates into Studio Theatre

xanaduThe 1980 movie musical FLOP Xanadu was reimagined as a stage musical in 2007 and became a surprise smash on Broadway.  It has now skated into the Studio Theatre for a summer run.

The bubblegum pop score of Jeff Lynne and John Farrar has been augmented by a book by Douglas Carter Beane. He combined the original movie story with a touch of Clash of the Titans (another early 1980s movie disappointment) and added a great deal of humor and campy fun.

Directed by Justin A. Pike, the musical features a cast of Courtney Speyer, Kevin Crumpler, Greg Blacklaw, Gabi Baltzley, Amy Young, Tye Davis, Adriana Napolitano, Bridget Davis and Brian Earles.

The creative team team features choreographer Sara Adams, musical director Bob Bidewell, costume designer Hannah M. Sawyer and stage manager Danette Scott Perry.  In addition to directing, Pike designed the sets and co-designed the lighting with Michael Goodbar.

Performances began on July 9 and continue through July 19.  Curtain time is 7pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2pm on Sunday.

Pay a call on THE ADDAMS FAMILY at the Weekend Theater

twt-Addams-FamilyCue the finger snaps and help the Weekend Theater kick off their 2015-2016 season with the ghoulishly fun Tony nominated musical The Addams Family.  Based on the Charles Addams cartoons and incorporating aspects of the 1960s TV series, this original musical is by the authors of Jersey Boys and The Wild Party.

Two families with vastly divergent cultures, mores, and expectations collide when the Addams hosts a dinner for Wednesday Addams’ “normal” boyfriend and his parents. Trust and fear, love and truth, acceptance and forgiveness are just a few things on the menu in this magnificently macabre new musical comedy created by Jersey Boys authors, Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice and Drama Desk Award winner, Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party).

The cast is led by Drew Ellis, Claudia Moskova Cremeens, Mackenzie Holtzclaw, Victor Basco, Dahren White, Ryan Whitfield, and Xavier Jones as the Addams household.  The guests are played by James West, Kristin Marts and Ethan Patterson.  Rounding out the cast are Emma Boone, Chloe Clement, Brian Earles, Kelsey Ivory, and Payton Justice.

The production is directed by Tom Crone with music direction by Lori Isner.  The show runs through July 28.  Performances are at 7:30pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 on Sunday afternoons.  On Friday, June 19 the curtain time is 8pm.

 

Lucky 13

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13 is a musical about one of the most awkward ages known to mankind in western civilization: turning thirteen. When it originally ran on Broadway five years ago, it was not a success. (More about that later.). Upon its closure, many felt that the show was through forever. But a funny thing happened over the last five years–the show has become a success in community and secondary school theatres.

The original production used tweens and early teens as actors and musicians but was lost in the scale of a huge Broadway production. It needed intimacy so that the audience and the actors can connect. This show needs actors who can seem vulnerable, naive, quixotic, and selfish without seeming polished or cartoonish. In order to achieve this, 13 needs a smaller space.

It is hard to get much smaller a space than the Weekend Theater. While sometimes that theatre is over ambitious in the scale of its production choices, 13 is the right size and type of musical for the space. Luckily, it was chosen to kickoff the 2103-14 season; it runs through Sunday, June 23.

As written by Rick Elish & Robert Horn (book), 13 is reminscent of an afterschool special or “very special episode” of a sitcom. It deals with acceptance, bullying, first love and a plethora of teen issues. In an 100 minute show, it hardly gives any topic much depth or explores too much character motivation. This facile approach, however, ensures that the actors are able to play their characters with honesty. They are not out to wow the audience with polished bravura performances that border on cute or cloying. It would not be reasonable to ask young actors to carry a show the length of Les Mis, but asking them to carry this length of show is reasonable.

What depth the musical does have comes in the form of the score by Jason Robert Brown. While Brown has written a score in a style and range that works with voices in that awkward transition on the cusp of maturity, he has also imbued it with emotional honesty. His songs capture the horrors, humor and heartbreak of being in junior high. This score is not necessarily “Broadway” but it is also not the Broadway concept of a rock score (which very rarely approaches rock). These are casual art songs, heartfelt ballads and peppy numbers reminiscent of kids TV.

The central character in 13 is Evan, played at the Weekend Theater by Will Frueauff. One cannot teach comic timing–a person has it or doesn’t. Frueauff has it. With an arched eyebrow, tilted head or slight gesture, he masterfully captured the numerous funny moments which keep this character from being pathetic. The audience feels his awkwardness but also his kindness and remorse . Through Frueauff’s performance, the audience roots for him to succeed, not out of pity but because he is a decent guy. He also displayed a nice singing voice as he handled a veritable parade of songs and emotions.

Casey Labbate and Ethan Patterson play two other outcasts–though less concerned with fitting in than Evan. These could be dour, sour, pitiful characters. Instead Labbate and Patterson flesh them out. They had a nice chemistry with each other and Frueauff. If there were a contest to see which of them has the most deadpan delivery, it would probably end up like most soccer games–a tie.

As the BMOC, Ryan Owens was goofily charming. He exhibited a nice flair for physical comedy and was able to turn on a dime from bashful to bully. Stephanie Schoonmaker displayed a pleasant singing voice as the cheerleader captain. She was honestly sweet without being syrupy. Khloe Richardson’s mean girl was a force with which to reckon. She was manipulative without being obvious. Though the closest thing to a villain in the show, Richardson still evoked sympathy or at least empathy.

Each of the other cast members had a chance to shine whether through acting, singing or dancing. Brian Earles, Diondre Wright, Autumn Romines, Madeleine Robinson, Rachel Caffey, Matthew Glover and Jeffrey Oakley ably populated this mythical world known as adolescence.

I have had the chance to see many of these performers on stage in other productions or in forensics competitions. It is always a pleasure to see them in a different arena. Rarely do tweens and teens get to play parts their own age. While obviously still playing characters, these actors seemed very comfortable in these roles. They know these people–they see them every day.

The cast was directed by Hannah M Sawyer. As a junior high speech and drama teacher, she knows something about how kids this age behave. Sawyer ensured that the performers were honest to the situation, the script and the score. A talented actor in her own right, she tapped into the actors’ talents and focused them on serving the story. In so doing, the show reminds the audience that “fitting in” does not end after one reaches the age of 13.

Watching this production caused a few flashbacks to junior high. They weren’t to bad moments or even good moments–just moments, feelings, that sense of possibility. Theatre is supposed to transport the audience–back, forward, elsewhere. I would not want to go back to junior high or high school (and this musical underscores that once is enough for adolescent angst). It is nice to be reminded of a time when getting into an R rated movie was one’s biggest concern and to reflect on the journeys made by my classmates and myself since those days.

Given the talent on the stage, it is also nice to enjoy the performances and contemplate future performances these actors may deliver.

The Weekend Theater’s production of 13 is, indeed, a lucky convergence of place, actors and director which serve the piece well.