42 Years of Arkansas Rep

On November 11, 1976, the curtain went up on the first Arkansas Repertory Theatre production.  It was the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical The Threepenny Opera.  Rep founder Cliff Baker directed the show and played the leading role of Macheath aka Mack the Knife.

Others in the cast included local attorney Herb Rule, Jean Lind, Theresa Glasscock, Connie Gordon and Guy Couch.  Byl Harriell was the technical director and production designer while Donia Crofton was the costume designer.

The production took place in the Rep’s home which was the converted former home of Hunter United Methodist Church on the eastern edge of MacArthur Park.  (Harriell’s business Bylites is now in that location.)

Baker had previously worked at the Arkansas Arts Center theatre when it was attached to a degree granting MFA program. He had also directed shows in other parts of Arkansas.  He returned to Little Rock and founded the Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre which performed in Hillcrest.  The Arkansas Repertory Theatre was a step forward with the establishment of a professional repertory company.

The first season of the Rep would include Company, Suddenly Last Summer, Marat/Sade, and Stop the World–I Want to Get Off. Season tickets for a total of seven shows were $30.

Baker served as Artistic Director of Arkansas Rep from 1976 until 1999.

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31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 2017’s SISTER ACT

Based on the 1990s film of the same name, Sister Act marked Cliff Fannin Baker’s final directing assignment at Arkansas Rep.

No one knew it at the time, which is just as well. It was a joyous uplifting experience which was what Cliff would have wanted people to have for his final Rep show.

The show was selected by Bob Hupp to be part of the transition season after his departure. Baker had previously indicated interest in directing the show if Hupp ever programmed it for the Rep.

So from January 24, 2017 through March 5, 2017, Baker’s production filled the Rep.  It had originally been set to end on February 26 but was extended a week.

The cast was led by Soara-Joye Ross with Tracy Bidleman, Erica Lutstig, Susan J. Jacks, Jennie Boone, Patrick Clanton, Monte J. Howell, Cornelius Davis, Ton Castellanos, and Darryl Winslow. Little Rock favorites in the cast included Vivian Norman, Kathryn Pryor, Jay Clark, Monica Robinson, Kelley Ponder, Erica Martinez Warner, Zachary Meyers, and Taylor Quick. KATV’s Alyson Courtney made a cameo as a 1970s TV reporter.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY in 2015

Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County closed out the Arkansas Rep’s 2014-2015 season.

Rep founder Cliff Baker, who starred in the Rep’s first production of The Threepenny Opera returned to the stage as an actor to portray the mysterious patriarch of the Weston clan.

Joining him were Susanne Marley as matriarch Violet and LeeAnne Hutchison, Kathy McCafferty and Brenny Rabine as their three daughters.  Marc Carver, Michael McKenzie,  and Mary Katelin Ward are family members of the three daughters.

Natalie Canerday, Richard Waddingham and Michael Patrick Kane played another branch of the family. Grant Neale and Cassandra Seidenfeld were two other residents of Osage County who are drawn into the family drama.

The design team includes Mike Nichols (set), Marianne Custer (costumes), Yael Lubetzky (lighting), Allan Branson (sound) and Lynda J. Kwallek (props).  Other members of the creative team include fight director D. C. Wright (and there is plenty of physical sparring in addition to the verbal sparring) and dialect coach Stacy Pendergraft.

August Osage Casto

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 2014’s CLYBOURNE PARK

The Arkansas Rep kicked off 2014 with the Pulitzer and Tony winning CLYBOURNE PARK.  Both a prequel and sequel of sorts to A Raisin in the Sun, it looks at the life of a house and a neighborhood.

In 1959, a white couple sells their home to a black family (the fictional Younger family from A Raisin in the Sun), causing an uproar in their middle-class neighborhood. Fifty years later in 2009, the same house is changing hands again, but the stakes have changed.

As neighbors wage a hilarious and pitched battle over territory and legacy, Clybourne Park reveals just how far our ideas about race and identity have evolved.

In 2014, Arkansas Repertory Theatre brought the play to Little Rock in a production directed by the founder of the Rep, Cliff Baker.  The cast included Shaleah Adkisson, Ryan Barry, Katie Cunningham, Lawrence Evans, LeeAnne Hutchison, Robert Ierardi, Jason O’Connell, and David Tennal.

The creative team included scenic designer Mike Nichols, costume designer Yslan Hicks, lighting designer Yael Lubetzky, sound designer Allan Branson and properties designer Lynda J. Kwallek.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: THE ELEPHANT MAN in 2009

Thirty years after it opened on Broadway, Arkansas Rep presented The Elephant Man.  Due to anticipated renovations at the Rep’s main stage, it was performed at Wildwood Park in the Cabe Festival Theatre.

Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker directed this production which starred Rep veteran Steve Wilkerson in the title role. Wilkerson, who had previously shown his skill and versatility in such varied roles as Peter Pan and Prior Walter, displayed his talents and physicality in portraying the deformed John Merrick.

Another Rep veteran, Joe Graves, played the doctor who befriended Merrick.  Others in the cast were Matt Walker, Nathan Klau, Val Landrum, Alanna Hammill Newton, and Wesley Mann.

The creative team included Mike Nichols (scenery), Marianne Custer (costumes), Matthew Webb (lighting), M. Jason Pruzin (sound), and Lynda J. Kwallek (props). The original score was composed by Buddy Habig, a Little Rock musician who died in December 2008.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 2006’s A CHORUS LINE

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre put it all on the line — the chorus line when they presented the 1976 Pulitzer Prize winning A CHORUS LINE in 2006. Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker, this was one of the last productions allowed before a Broadway revival.

The musical, set in an audition for an unnamed musical, featured a cast of 25 triple threats.  Bob Gaynor and Kathryn Mowat Murphy played the leading roles of Zach and Cassie. The latter had played the role three times previously, each directed by a member of the original Broadway production of the show.

Others in the cast were Joi Chen, Case Dillard, Allison Stodola, Steven Baker, Darryl Calmese Jr., DJ Chase, Tony Falcon, Matt Gibson, Colleen Hawks, Hollie Howard, Kolina Janneck, Christina LaDuca, Deborah Leamy, Miguel A. Romero, Michael Susko and Melanie Waldron.

Rounding out the cast were Dennis Glasscock, Matthew D. Brooks, Lauren Farrell, Joey Murray, Cameron Wade, Eric T. Mann and Kim Scott.

The creative team included choreographer Lynne Kurdziel Formato (in her second collaboration with Baker at the Rep), Kristy Nicholson (musical director), Mike Nichols (scenery), Yslan Hicks (costumes), M. Jason Pruzin (sound) and Ken White (lighting).

The production played from June 2 through July 2 of 2006.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: GYPSY in 2003

In June 2003, the Arkansas Rep went back to the dying days of vaudeville when it presented Gypsy.  Written by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, this musical fable looks at the end of vaudeville and the rise of Gypsy Rose Lee.  It was directed by Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker.

Baker said he had long wanted to do the show, but credited Bob Hupp (his successor as the Rep’s Producing Artistic Director) with figuring out a way to make it happen.

Mary Robin Roth took on the role of Mama Rose. She had previously played Miss Hannigan in Annie at the Rep.  Broadway vets Trista Moldovan and Joyce Chittick played Rose’s daughters Louise and June. In real life those grew up to be Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc.  Others in the cast of approximately 30 included John Kudan, Nicholas Dromard, and Steve Wilkerson.

The creative team included Mike Nichols (scenery), Margaret A. McKowen (costumes), David Neville (lighting) and M. Jason Pruzin (sound). Ron Hutchins choreographed, and Eric Alsford was the musical director.

Even before opening night, the production was extended a week and ended on July 6 instead of June 29.