The Elves and the Shoemaker up next at Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre

The Elves and the ShoemakerThe Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre will bring the spirit of the holiday season to the stage in The Elves and the Shoemaker, a musical adapted from the folktales of the Brothers Grimm. The show will run December 2 through December 18.

The holiday reimagining of the Grimm’s folktale tells the story of a poor cobbler with a good heart and a grateful spirit. Jack Shoemaker and his family have fallen on hard times. Jack’s debts are coming due with the new year, and his family’s chances of a happy Christmas are looking bleak. But just when he seems to be losing all hope, he receives a strange visit in the night. Elves grant a magical gift that reminds him what is truly important in life: family. And when that family gratefully returns the elves’ kind gesture, they are doubly blessed with the happiest, most love-filled Christmas ever. This traditional family favorite is ideal for the holiday season of giving.

The Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre performance of The Elves and the Shoemaker is directed by Keith Smith. Bradley D. Anderson is the artistic director. The sets are designed by Miranda Young, costumes are designed by Nikki Webster, technical direction by Drew Posey, lighting design by Mike Stacks, choreography by Erin Fowler and musical direction by Lori Isner. Rivka Kuperman is the stage manager.

The cast includes:

  • Aleigha Morton as Herself
  • Jeremy Matthey as Himself
  • Barlow Brenner as Slumber
  • Connor Hadden as Chimney
  • Brady Chandler as Pantry
  • Collete Crochet  as Emily
  • Katie Campbell as Anna
  • John Isner as Jack
  • Mark Hansen as Man
  • Simon Gess  as Boy

Tickets can always be purchased in person, online or by phone.  Prices are $10 for AAC members; $12.50 for non-members.

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Go to the WOODS

TST ITWSince the rights became available in the early 1990s, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods has been popular for theatres of all levels from youth to professional regional theatres. It is, on the surface, a show that is easy to do adequately allowing for singers and actors of varying levels of expertise to perform. As such, I have seen numerous productions of this title (my interest stemming partly from being a cousin of the Brothers Grimm on whose work this musical is based).

The Studio Theatre’s production of Into the Woods is a reminder why it is worthwhile to go on the journey again. Whether you have seen outstanding or dreadful productions in the past or never seen the show before, this production of Into the Woods highlights the many charms of the property.

(It also reminded me that despite some judicious trims here and there, the first act is very long. So be forewarned and visit the restroom beforehand.)

Director Rafael Castanera has assembled a strong cast and then made sure they carry out his vision. Given the physical confines of the space, he has created a world in which the stage is always bustling with activity but never seems to be crowded. This is a very wordy script, but Castanera also trusts his cast with silence. Some of the most memorable moments (touching and comic) were achieved with no words. That is the hallmark of deft directing.

The show is truly an ensemble effort with uniformly solid performances. As the Baker around whom much of the action centers, Michael Goodbar gives a nice dramatic turn. Often seen in the outrageously comic Red Octopus Theatre productions, his layered performance here is a revelation. He has great chemistry with Angela Kay Collier as the Baker’s Wife. She is an even match for him in a performance that is both strong (but not strident) and vulnerable. Erin Martinez turns in yet another memorable characterization as the Witch. Her vocal prowess is on display in numbers ranging from rap (Sondheim did it here long before Hamilton) to tender song to power ballad.

Brandon Nichols brings an animalistic swagger to his performance as the Wolf. He is predatory and sensual without being obscene, which is especially important since the object of his lupine affection is an adolescent girl. In his other role, he is a hilariously vainglorious and charming Prince. With an arched eyebrow or shift in posture, he both echoes fairy tale princes and spoofs them.   His brother in arms in the narcissism department is Ryan Heumier as his brother the other Prince. Heumier can sing to another character all the while primping in front of his ever-present handheld mirror. The fraternal duet “Agony” is a highlight of the first act (and gleefully reprised in the second).

As the object of Nichols’ princely pursuit, Rachel Caffey brings a clear voice and clear eye to the role of Cinderella. She is equally at home among the ashes as she is running through the woods in a ballgown. Grace Pitts is a delightful Red Riding Hood alternating between assertive and susceptible, innocent and knowing. Often juvenile actors can be cloying (which may be why this part is usually played by someone older). But Pitts is never mawkish in her portrayal. Even as the character comes to grip with a new reality, Pitts’ performance lets the audience know she is still a young girl with enthusiasm and vulnerability.

Evan Patterson offers a dim-witted but well-intentioned Jack (of Beanstalk fame). The part is sometimes played doltishly. But Patterson’s portrayal focuses on the humanity of the character who happens to be more absent-minded than stupid. As his mother, reliable Beth Ross tempers her exasperation at her son with her devotion to him and her desire to provide for him. David Weatherly plays the narrator who fills in for Jack’s cow Milky White at times and also appears briefly as a eponymously named “Mysterious Man.” His talents for facial expressions and cud-chewing helped bring out much of the humor in the script.

Rounding out the cast in various roles were Courtney Speyer (whose dulcet tones were on display as she sang a sort of siren’s song), Amy G. Young (having fun as a not too weak Granny), Daniel Collier (as the officious and official steward), Katie Eisenhower, Brooke Melton and Autumn Romines. The latter three were the deliciously wicked step-relatives of Cinderella.

The cast was clad in intricately detailed costumes designed by Castanera. The clothing skillfully defined the characters and added whimsically to the story. Every square inch of fabric was there for a purpose. There were many accents and accessories, so each time an actor came on stage it was possible to discover something new. But the costumes served the actors and did not distract from the performances or the story. The clothing was abetted by Robert Pickens’ exquisite wigs.

Pickens is also the set coordinator. The set is a marvel. In a relatively small space there are a variety of platforms and ramps which depict many different settings. The set mainly consists wooden planks in groupings framing the proscenium. With this wood, a few ropes and some canvas, the story unfolds before the audience’s eyes. In a subtle reminder of the storybook nature of the evening, the stage is littered with hundreds of books stacked in any possible nook and cranny. The proceedings are well-lit by Joey DiPette who manages to make sure the actors are always seen while still conveying changes in settings and shifts from day to night.

While not a through-sung musical, Into the Woods has much, much music!. Even when the actors are not singing, the music rarely stops. Musical Director Bob Bidewell has made sure that the singers maximize their musical moments in the woods. He and the orchestra never play over the singers, but definitely enhance the mood and the overall musical experience by supporting the songs and the singers.

Like revisiting stories from childhood, it was pleasant to revisit Into the Woods, especially in a strong, cohesive production currently running at the Studio Theatre. Performances continue through March 26 (7pm Thursdays through Saturdays and 2pm on Sundays).

Go INTO THE WOODS this month at the Studio Theatre

Grace Pitts as Little Red Riding Hood - Photography by Grant Dillion for The Studio Theatre

Grace Pitts as Little Red Riding Hood – Photography by Grant Dillion for The Studio Theatre

Once upon a time, Pulitzer Prize winners Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine wrote a musical based upon the folk tales of the Brothers Grimm. Into the Woods ran for over 700 performances on Broadway and won 3 Tony Awards, spawned a Tony winning revival and a movie. Now the Studio Theatre brings it back to Little Rock.

Directed by Rafael Colon Castanera (who also designed the costumes), other members of the creative team are Jennifer Caffey (assistant director), Bob Bidewell (musical director), Robert Pickens (wig designer) and Carrie Henry (stage manager).

The cast includes Rachel Caffey, Angela Kay Collier, Daniel Collier, Katie Eisenhower, Michael Goodbar, Ryan Heumier, Erin Martinez, Brooke Melton, Brandon Nichols, Ethan Patterson, Grace Pitts, Autumn Romines, Beth Ross, Courtney Speyer, David Weatherly, and Amy G. Young

The production opens tonight and runs through March 26. Performances are at 7pm Thursdays through Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm.

The Studio Theatre offers six musicals in 2015-2016; one show still remains in current season

studioThe Studio Theatre has announced the shows for their second season.

Up first, however, is Dogfight which will close out the first season.  Adapted from the 1991 movie of the same name, Dogfight is a story of compassion, heartbreak and redemption. Winner of the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical in 2013, Dogfight runs August 20- August 23 at The Studio Theatre located at 320 West 7th Street in downtown.

The 2015-2016 season includes six musicals.  Four of them will be making their Little Rock premieres. One of the other musicals will have its first non-touring production in Little Rock.

The new season kicks off on October 22 with a show filled with scary tales about the evils of doing bad. It is the satire Reefer Madness based on the non-satirical but unintentionally hilarious 1936 movie of the same name.

This musical, written by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, premiered in Los Angeles in 1998 and Off Broadway in 2001.  The Studio Theatre production will be directed by Ryan Whitfield.  The show will run from October 22 until October 31.

The Studio Theatre had a hit in 2015 with Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years.  In January 2016, they will present his first musical Songs for a New World.  This song cycle premiered Off Broadway in 1995 and has become a popular show throughout the US.  The musical style of the score varies broadly. The thing that unites the songs is the concept of making a choice or taking a stand.

The production will be directed by Monica Clark Robinson.  Songs for a New World will run January 21 to 24.

Once upon a time, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine wrote a musical based on the Grimm Brothers’ folk tales.  Into the Woods will be the third show next season.  Opening on Broadway in 1987, it may have lost the Tony for Best Musical to The Phantom of the Opera, but it has not suffered as a popular musical.

This production of Into the Woods will run from March 10 to 26.  It will be directed by Rafael Castanera, who beautifully directed Nine earlier this year.

Based on the Alice Walker novel and the Steven Spielberg movie, The Color Purple will be the fourth musical of the season.  Running from May 12 to 22, it will be directed by Crystal Mercer.

After it premiered in Atlanta in 2004, it made it to Broadway the following year.  The show has a book by Pulitzer winner Marsha Norman. The songs are by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.  The show was nominated for 11 Tonys and won one.

The 1980s hair bands will be honored by the 5th show as Rock of Ages takes the stage. Directed by Justin A. Pike, it will run from July 14 to 24. With a book by Chris D’Arienzo, the musical features songs from Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Europe.

Rock of Ages first played Off Broadway before transferring to Broadway.  It closed in January 2015 after playing more than 2300 performances on Broadway.

The final musical of the 2015-2016 season is James and the Giant Peach. Based on the Roald Dahl book, this musical features a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.  The pair were nominated for a Tony for their score of the musical version of A Christmas Story.

This show will run from August 11 to 21.  It will be directed by Mark Burbank.  He is also directing Dogfight which features a score by Pasek and Paul.

(This is not connected to the production offered by the Arkansas Arts Center a few seasons back.)

August 9 is National Book Lover’s Day

bldAugust 9 is National Book Lover’s Day (or Book Lovers Day or Book Lovers’ Day — take your pick).

However you punctuate it, today is a day for those who love to read.  It is set aside to encourage you to kick back and relax with a great book. From shaded spots under arching trees to being tucked up warm in bed, there’s no better way to celebrate today than to while the hours away lost in a book.

A few years ago Huffington Post offered these suggestions as activities for this “holiday.” I’ve annotated them with thoughts of my own.

1) Visit your local library (bonus points if you hum “A Trip to the Library” or “Marian, Madame Librarian” when you do)

2) Reread an old favorite (CliffsNotes don’t count-except for Faulkner because Mala Rogers said it was okay.)

3) Drop some literary references (commiserate a sports loss with a “there is no joy in Mudville;” describe something tiny as Lilliputian; express frustration with “Fiddle dee dee”)

4) Get a new bookshelf (or build one.  or get a book about how to build one.)

5) Give the gift of reading (read to someone — just make sure it is age appropriate — the original Grimm Folk Tales are not intended for pre-school audiences)

6) Hit up a literary haunt (Jay Jennings can probably suggest several Arkansas locations, or you can go to the Capital Bar–many journalists have scribbled notes on napkins there which have made there ways into political books)

7) Host your own book club (or crash your neighbor’s)

8) Host a book lovers party (or tell people you went to one dressed as the Invisible Man–either Wells or Ellison version)

9) Contact your favorite living author (just make sure there isn’t a restraining order because you already have tried this.  repeatedly. at inappropriate locations and times)

10) Donate (it does seem a sin to throw away a book. so pass it on)

 

So visit the Central Arkansas Library System or WordsWorth Books.  Make a pilgrimage to Piggott to see where Hemingway wrote part of A Farewell to Arms (which my classmates and I dubbed A Farewell to Leg because of the line, “I put my hand on my knee, it wasn’t there.”).  Crack open that book at home.  Go down a rabbit hole in search of your Green Light, your Dulcinea, or your Holy Grail.

For younger audiences, chew on a board book, marvel at a pop-up book, experience a scratch ‘n’ sniff book.

Whatever you do today, don’t let it go by without touching a book!  (Episcopalians have it covered with the BCP.)

Straw Gets Spun into Gold as RUMPELSTILTSKIN takes stage at Arts Center Children’s Theatre

AACCTrumpThe Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre presents Rumpelstiltskin through February 8, 2015.

“The magical tale of Rumpelstiltskin takes the audience on an action-packed journey that is familiar to so many generations,” said Todd Herman, executive director of the Arkansas Arts Center. “We invite the community to experience the enchantment of this wonderful play.”

Once upon a time, there was a dwarf who tried to take things that just weren’t his. Now, this dwarf lived in a land that was ruled by a king whose greed was as grand as his kingdom. And in that kingdom, there lived a miller whose bragging mouth was nearly as grand as the king’s greed. And it so happened that this miller had a lovely daughter who was kind and good, but one day she did a very bad thing –  she made a promise she could not keep. Now, the king is angry, the miller is frightened, and the dwarf is simply out of control.

Wheels spin and straw flies as the miller’s daughter works madly to make things right again, but the only way she can is by discovering the mean old dwarf’s secret true name. In searching for that, she discovers the only power in the world that will help her. The most magical power of all: love.

This production is adapted for the stage by Keith Smith from the Brothers Grimm.

The cast for Rumpelstiltskin includes:

  • Nate Plummer as Rumpelstiltskin
  • Lauren Linton as The Miller’s Daughter
  • Mark Hansen as The King
  • John Isner as The Miller

Bradley Anderson is the artistic director and Keith Smith is the playwright and set designer for the production. Costumes are designed by Erin Larkin; technical direction by Drew Posey; lighting design by Penelope Poppers; properties design by Miranda Young and Sarah Gasser is the stage manager.

Dogs, Cats, Rabbits, Puppets, Kings and Robbers Hightlight 2014-2015 Season of Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre

aac_logo_childrens_theatreAs the state’s leader in international, visual and performing arts, the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre announces a sensational lineup of productions for the 2014–15 season.

“Our 2014-15 season has a diverse and innovative line-up of talented actors and compelling stories that reflect our continued tradition of bringing joy and laughter into the hearts of our audience,” said Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre artistic director Bradley Anderson. “Our upcoming season will offer something for everyone and we can’t wait to bring our audience back for six consecutive productions sure to delight children of all ages.”

The Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre will open the 2014-15 season with Go, Dog. Go! September 17 – October 5, 2014. Watch the stage explode with a delight of color, motion, music and dogs in this captivating adaptation of P. D. Eastman’s famous canine extravaganza. Go, Dog. Go! is adapted for the stage by Stephen Dietz and Allison Gregory.

Magic and morality abound this fall when Pinocchio takes the stage on October 24 – November 9, 2014. One day, by a stroke of incredible luck, this commonplace piece of lumber found its way into the skilled hands of Geppetto the wood carver. And so, the world’s most famous marionette, Pinocchio, was born. Come join the fun as the little puppet runs away to discover the world. The audience will enjoy the fun and share Geppetto’s delight as his little Pinocchio learns an important lesson. The production is written by Alan Keith Smith based on the story by Carlo Collodi.

Spend quality time with the family this holiday season with The Velveteen Rabbit on November 28 – December 21, 2014. The audience will be thrilled with this Christmas themed childhood favorite as the story of a stuffed rabbit and his quest to become real through the love of his owner come to life on stage. The Velveteen Rabbit is written by Alan Keith Smith and based on the story by Margery Williams.

arkartsTake a break from the winter wonderland to see the world famous Grimm’s fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin take the stage January 21 – February 8, 2015. Watch as the miller whose bragging mouth was nearly as grand as the king’s greed gets his lovely daughter into a bit of a mess. The story takes the audience on an adventure while the characters facing life-altering decisions, broken promises and an array of mysterious events through the power of friendship, the destructive nature of vanity and greed and the value of forgiveness. Rumpelstiltskin is adapted for the stage by Alan Keith Smith.

Ever been stuck inside when the weather is blue? The Cat in the Hat has fun in store for you as one of the most familiar and beloved picture books of the last half century erupts with fun on the Children’s Theatre stage on March 5 – March 29, 2015. Sally and her brother are miserably bored on a rainy day until they cross paths with the Cat in the Hat and he’s just in time to show the kids a Thing or two about fun. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss is adapted for the stage by Katie Mitchell.

Just in time for spring, audiences will rally with Robin Hood and his merry band as they outwit and outclass the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham in The Legend of Robin Hood on stage April 24 – May 10, 2015. Join the Children’s Theatre on a glorious adventure with charm and wit that never fails to rouse our hearts in the age-old battle of good versus evil. The Legend of Robin Hood is written by Alan Keith Smith.

Current presenting sponsors for this Children’s Theatre season are Landers Fiat, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Centennial Bank, JPMS Cox and the media partner is Little Rock Family magazine.

Tickets are $12.50 for children and adults and $10 for Arkansas Arts Center members. Season ticket packages are available. For more information, visit arkansasartscenter.org or call (501) 372-4000.

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

Contact: (501) 372-4000

Location: Arkansas Arts Center – 9th and Commerce, Little Rock, AR 72202

Gallery Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday

11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Closed Monday & Major Holidays

 

Arkansas Arts Center programs are supported in part by: the City of Little Rock; the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau; the City of North Little Rock; and the Arkansas Arts Council, an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage and the National Endowment for the Arts.