Pulitzers Play Little Rock: CTLR’s production of RENT

CTLR RentJonathan Larson’s through-sung updated La Boheme was an instant success from its first Off Broadway preview.  Unfortunately with his death that day, Larson never enjoyed the success.  After a long Broadway run, the rights were made available for other productions.

Though not the first to present Rent in Little Rock, the Community Theatre of Little Rock closed out its 58th season in 2014 with a production of this winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

The cast included Michael Goodbar, Ryan Whitfield, Charles Holloway, Jeremiah Herman, Angel Monroe, Brittany Sparkles, Kelsey Padilla, Jess Carson, David Weatherly, Courtney Williams, Douglas Hammon, Elijah Ash, Manny Urban, Brian Christopher Roberson, Robert Warner, Claudia Moskova-Cremeens, Ashley McPhearson, Vivian Murray-Colyer, Nichole Henry, Allison Bode, Courtney Speyer, Makayla Ealy, and Beth Ross.

The production was directed by Frank O. Butler.  Matthew Tatus was the Music Director, while the producers were Liz Clark and Jerry Woods.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

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.

Have a Blast with Summer Oven presented by Red Octopus Theater

Members of the cast rehearse “Free Yoga” a sketch for Red Octopus Theater’s upcoming Summer Oven sketch comedy show.

Members of the cast rehearse “Free Yoga” a sketch for Red Octopus Theater’s upcoming Summer Oven sketch comedy show.

Summer Oven, the new original sketch comedy show by Red Octopus Theater, will run August 14, 15, 20, 21, 22 at The PUBLIC Theater, located at 616 Center Street, in downtown Little Rock, AR.  Doors will open at 7:30PM and the show will start at 8:00PM.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens, military and students and are available before the show. There are no online ticket sales or reservations. There will be refreshments available.  The show is recommended for mature audiences and child tickets are $567, plus a lock of hair.

August in Arkansas makes you want to kiss the person that invented air conditioning and drink your own weight in sweet tea.  Naturally, Summer Oven is about Arkansas’s oppressive summer heat and all the crazy it brings out in us.

Several new sketches planned for the stage include “Mr. Science”, the story of a local kids science show host who has reached his breaking point with baking soda volcanoes.  “An Apology for Hulk Hogan” where a wrestling fan tries to apologize to everyone Hulk Hogan has insulted.  “Free Yoga,” the sign says free, but what about your soul?  Also “Humid Hair, the newest beauty trend and “The Sweat Report”, Arkansas’s newest web weather forecast.

“We don’t want to remind you it’s hot, we want to make you laugh while you sweat,” said Jason Willey, Red Octopus Executive Producer.

The cast includes Sandy Baskin, Brian Chambers, Lesley Dancer, Drew Ellis, Michael Goodbar, Sam Grubb, Jeremiah Herman, Evan Tanner, and David Weatherly. Performances are open to all ages, but recommended for mature audiences because of adult language and situations, again, child tickets are $567 and a lock of hair.

Red Octopus Theater has been performing original, live sketch comedy in central Arkansas since 1991.

For more information please contact Red Octopus Theater at (501) 291-3896, or RedOctopusTheater@gmail.com. Red Octopus is also online at www.redoctopustheater.com.

On Father’s Day, a look at Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre’s production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

AST FiddlerFiddler on the Roof is about a father to five daughters. Since today is Father’s Day, and Fiddler is being produced by Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre this summer, today seems a good day to discuss it.

This classic beloved musical tells the story of Tevye the dairyman who takes ultimate joy in his family and traditions. He works to raise his five daughters and see them married well, but must struggle against modern ideas and the rising tide of anti-Semitism in 1900s Russia that threaten to destroy his family and their way of life.

The cast is led by Peter Kevoian, Jo Blackstone, Stacy Pendergraft, Mark Fox, Jocelyn Vammer, Hunter Ringsmith, Hannah Moulder, Garret Whitehead, Sydney Ippolito, Matthew Holcomb, Mattie Bogoslavsky, David Bauman, Holly Ruth Gale, Dan Matisa, Jess Prichard, Ricky Pope, David Weatherly, Josie Ghormley, Claire Gillaspy, Tanner Berry, Charlie Friedman, Taylor Galloway, Garrett Houston, Moriah Patterson, Harrison Trigg, Jackson Karl, Rebecca Kuo, Amanda Kuo, Zoe Russell, Kendall Watson, Joey Whisenhunt and Maggie Whisenhunt.

Originally produced in 1964, Fiddler went on to win nine Tony Awards in 1965 including Best Musical.  

The production opened on June 10 and continues today at 2pm and 7:30, Wednesday at 2pm and 7:30 and Saturday at 7:30.

The Peeps Show is latest offering from Red Octopus

The Peeps Show, a new original sketch comedy show by Red Octopus Theater, will run April 24, 25, 30 and May 1, 2, at The PUBLIC Theatre, located at 616 Center Street, in downtown Little Rock, AR.  Doors will open at 7:30PM and the show will start at 8:00PM.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens, military and students and are available before the show.  No reservations are necessary and there will be refreshments available.  The show is recommended for mature audiences, children tickets are $549.

Red Octopus Theater, performing since 1991, starts off their 2015 season with The Peeps Show, a show about spring, warm weather, rebirth and marshmallow candies.  The Peeps Show will also begin a series of productions featuring aspiring Red Octopus members.

The Peeps Show will feature five new faces for audience members as well as a strong cast of veteran performers.  New performers auditioned earlier in 2015 for a spot in a Red Octopus show and perhaps an invitation to join the regular cast.

Jason Willey, Red Octopus Board Member said, “Sketch comedy and theater, in general, need new blood to keep it going and to keep it fresh.  We held auditions after getting a lot inquiries and we found some funny people.  Hopefully, we won’t scare them all off.”

The Peeps Show will exam the many facets of Spring, sparing no one or thing in it’s path.  Religious themes pop up in “Jesus Saves”, about the onslaught of retail business on holidays.  The show will feature live coverage of the Arkansas Legislature in, “So This Is What They Did Now…”  The children’s PBS show “Bumblechunks & Friends” will teach kids about Easter around the world.  And Park rangers, Thomas and Tom will get you ready for your “first date hike” up Petit Jean in “Love at the Top.”  There will be some old favorites mixed in and a bunch of new material all lampooning all your favorite things to love and hate about the change in seasons.  So come out and support live sketch comedy with Red Octopus Theater.

The cast includes Brian Chambers, Alli Clark, Drew Ellis, Michael Goodbar, Evan Tanner, David Weatherly and Jason Willey and featuring Scott Dombroski, Sam Grubb, Nichole Henry, Jeremiah James Herman and Anderson Penix.. Performances are open to all ages, but recommended for mature audiences because of adult language and situations, again, child tickets are $549.

For more information please contact Red Octopus Theater at (501) 291-3896, or RedOctopusTheater@gmail.com. Red Octopus is also online at www.redoctopustheater.com.

 

THE GHOU-SUAL SUSPECTS will be interrogated by Red Octopus Theater this weekend

UsualSuspects3The Ghoul-sual Suspects, the new sketch comedy show by Red Octopus Theater, runs October 16-18, 2014 at The PUBLIC Theatre, located at 616 Center Street, in downtown Little Rock, AR.  Doors will open at 7:30PM and the show will start at 8:00PM.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens, military, students and anyone in costume.  No reservations are necessary and there will be refreshments available.  The show is recommended for mature audiences, child tickets are $666.

Red Octopus Theater, Arkansas’s oldest sketch comedy troupe, is proud to present their new, original Halloween extravaganza, by rounding up The Ghoul-sual Suspects!

Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff will be homaged in “They’re All Still Dead, They’re All Still Messed Up.”  The new game show, “The Manson Family Feud” pits the Bates against the Voorhees in a deadly battle of wits. “The Witches of West Little Rock” are back featuring local eateries where the ladies lunch and learn about amazing new things.  Meanwhile, local fashion icon Fauzio is back to tout his wares in “I Have A Clown Suite Just For You!”

The new dance troupe Stomps! will perform an candy inspired routine using pumpkins and brooms in “Chocolate One! Nougat Two!”  They will be accompanied by the vocal stylists, Le Sweets, dropping their new hit single, “Creamy Candy-Corn.”  Rosemary, from “Rosemary’s Baby” will finally get her day in court in a new sketch based on the classic horror story and the sexual charisma of Transylvania will haunt you long after you witness “Vampires What Woo!”

There will be treats, possible hauntings and tricks a plenty in Red Octopus’s celebration of their favorite time of year in Red Octopus Theater presents The Ghoul-sual Suspects!

The cast includes Sandy Baskin, Krystal Berry, Alli Clark, Lesley Dancer, Drew Ellis, Michael Goodbar, Christi Seatts, Brittany Sparkles, David Weatherly and Jason Willey with special guest, Luke “Ramthor” Rowlan and a cameo by Fred Thompan. Performances are open to all ages, but recommended for mature audiences because of adult language and situations, again, child tickets are $666.

For more information please contact Red Octopus Theater at (501) 291-3896, or RedOctopusTheater@gmail.com. Red Octopus is also online at www.redoctopustheater.com.

To contact The PUBLIC Theatre, call 374-PLAY.