Musical DOGFIGHT up next at The Studio Theatre – this weekend only

(LtoR) Koty Mansfield, Payton Justice, Ethan Patterson, Xavier Jones, Ben Mills, Chase Cundall

(LtoR) Koty Mansfield, Payton Justice, Ethan Patterson, Xavier Jones, Ben Mills, Chase Cundall

The Studio Theatre presents the regional premiere of Dogfight, a story of compassion, heartbreak and redemption adapted from the 1991 movie. With music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (James and The Giant Peach, A Christmas Story) and book by Peter Duchan, Dogfight offers audiences the winning combination of a great musical score, an unexpected love affair and a genuine soul.

It’s November 21, 1963. On the eve of their deployment to the small but growing ‘little conflict’ in Southeast Asia (and unbeknownst to them, also the eve of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination), three young, fresh and cocky Marines are looking forward to one final night of partying. They set out to find the ugliest girl to bring to the “dogfight”, a cruel game where the men put up money for a party and a cash prize for whoever brings the ugliest girl. But when Corporal Eddie Birdlace meets Rose, an awkward and idealistic waitress he enlists to win the cruel bet with his fellow recruits, she rewrites the rules of the game and teaches him the power of love and compassion. Dogfight is a powerful and haunting musical about the end of the age of innocence in the 60’s.

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. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, August 20, 21 and 22, 2015 at 7 PM and Sunday August 23, 2015 at 2 PM. Ticket price is $20 for Adults and $15 for Students, Senior Citizens and military (with valid id). Seating is general admission. Tickets can be purchased at

Due to mature themes, adult content and strong language, this production is not recommended for young children.

The cast is led by Ben Mills and Kayla Walker. Others in the cast include Payton Justice, Koty Mansfield, Bridget Davis, Ethan Patterson, Xavier Jones, Chase Cundall, James Norris, Georgeann Burbank and Jennifer Restum.  Rounding out the cast are Rachel Caffey, Brooke Melton and Hayley Coughlin.

The production is directed by Mark A. Burbank.  Bob Bidewell is the music director.  Others on the crative team include Hannah M. Sawyer, Anthony McBride, Stacey Johnson, Sarah Scott Blakey and Tye Davis.  Justin A. Pike is the Artistic Director of The Studio Theatre.


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.

9 TO 5 closes out 59th season of CTLR

9to5musicalWhat better way to end your 59th season than with a show with a 5 and a 9?  The Community Theatre of Little Rock presents the musical 9 to 5 through June 21st at The Studio Theatre (320 West 7th Street).

Performances are at 7:30pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and at 2pm on Sunday afternoons.

9 to 5 is written by Patricia Resnick, who co-wrote the movie screenplay, with songs by Dolly Parton.  Parton received a Tony nomination for her score.

Set in the late 1970s this hilarious story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era is outrageous, thought-provoking, and even a little romantic.  Pushed to the boiling point, three female co-workers concoct a plan to get even with their boss. In a hilarious turn of events, Violet, Judy and Doralee live out their wildest fantasy – giving their boss the boot! While Hart remains “otherwise engaged,” the women give their workplace a dream makeover, taking control of the company that had always kept them down.

The cast is led by Bridget Davis, Becky McAlister and Karena White as the main trio of women working hard to get ahead in the workplace. They are joined by Duane Jackson as the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot of a boss from Hell and Cheryl Troillett as his lackey.  Others in the cast include Chuck Massey, Chase Cundell, Jeremiah Herman, Leon Baggett, Rachel Garrett Bland, Mark Burbank, Jerry Davidson, Katy Fraley, Amanda Garrison Gilmore, Shann Nobels, Tanner Oglesby, Michael Pete, Jennifer Jackson Restum, Hannah M. Sawyer, Danny Troillett, Bruce Ward, Olivia Witcher and Jerry Woods.

The production is directed by Justin Pike with Jo Murry serving as music director.

Lucky 13


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.

On June 13, make plans to see 13 on June 14-16 or June 21-23

13coverThe Weekend Theatre opened 13 last weekend.  It continues through June 23.  Directed by Hannah Sawyer, it features a score by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown and  a book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn.

Performances are at 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30pm on Sundays.

A grown-up story about growing up! When his parents get divorced and he’s forced to move from New York to a small town in Indiana, Evan Goldman just wants to make friends and survive the school year. Easier said than done. The star quarterback is threatening to ruin his life and his only friend, Patrice, won’t talk to him. The school freak sees an opportunity for blackmail and someone is spreading the ‘nastiest’ rumors. 13 is a hilarious, high-energy musical for all ages about discovering that cool is where you find it and sometimes where you least expect it.

COMPANY comes in to the Weekend Theater

20130307-232808.jpgThose good and crazy people of George Furth and Stephen Sondheim’s Company come to Little Rock at the Weekend Theatre during the month of March. The production opened last night and runs through Sunday, March 24.

Craig Wilson stars as the central character Bobby who is celebrating his 35th birthday. Bobby is surrounded by five married couples and three single women as he travels through time and space. Company is a musical journey into what makes a marriage but also modern living.

The production is directed by Andy Hall. Joining Wilson in the cast are Kathryn Pryor and Ralph Hyman, Alan Douglas and Patti Airoldi, Jeremiah James Herman and Kate East, Duane Jackson and Erin Martinez, and Gabriel Washam and Julie Atkins. The women in Bobby’s life are played by Hannah M. Sawyer, Moriah Patterson and Jessica L. Hendricks.

The Weekend Theater production of the musical opens Friday, March 8, at the performance space at Seventh and Chester streets in downtown Little Rock. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays through March 24. Tickets are $20 for adults and $16 for seniors age 65 and older and students.

To make pre-paid reservations, visit the theater’s Web site,; tickets can also be purchased at the door. (As seating is currently limited due to reconstruction at the building, advance purchase is encouraged.) For information only, call (501) 374-3761.