20 years of indoor mural at Little Rock City Hall

On October 28, 1999, a mural was dedicated inside Little Rock City Hall.  Painted by artists Donald Gensler and Charlotte Allison, it was created to honor the City for its assistance in saving the Kramer School building.  As calendars everywhere were poised to turn from 1999 to 2000, it looked back to a time when the 20th Century was on the horizon.

Gensler and Allison drew inspiration for the mural from images they saw in old photographs. They were surprised to see photos of white and African American men working together at the original port of Little Rock which existed at La Petite Roche in what is now Riverfront Park. The photo was from the late 1800s before Jim Crow laws were fully enforced in Little Rock which separated the races more fully.

The only image in the mural that was not taken from an old photo is the mother holding the young baby. A fellow Kramer School resident and her young child posed for that photo. (Given that it was 20 years ago, that child is soon to be 21.)

At the dedication ceremony, held in Little Rock City Hall’s rotunda, Gensler and Allison as well as Mayor Jim Dailey spoke.   Joe Terry, a local actor and dancer who was also a Kramer School resident, sang “Old Man River” from Show Boat.

Gensler and Allison worked on the painting inside City Hall for a couple of weeks. They would often stop what they were doing to talk to City Hall employees and visitors to the building about the process of painting a mural.

While neither of the two artists currently live in Little Rock, a piece of them remains in this lasting tribute.

At the time, the Kramer School was serving as an artists cooperative.  While the building is no longer fulfilling that purpose, the efforts to make it thus saved it from a wrecking ball.  (The burgeoning effort of Artspace to create a live/work space in Little Rock would not repeat the Kramer School scenario because Artspace will maintain ownership of their facility guaranteeing its mission remains arts-based.)

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: ANYTHING GOES in 2001

The Arkansas Rep concluded its 25th season with the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes. Directed by Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker, it featured an onstage orchestra led by then-Arkansas Symphony maestro David Itkin.  (Rep Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp and Itkin had been trying for a while to find a project for collaboration.)

This shipboard romantic farce featured a book by Guy Bolton & P. G. Wodehouse which was revised before the 1934 opening by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse in their first collaboration. In 1987, Timothy Crouse (son of Russel) and John Weidman updated the script for a Lincoln Center Theatre production. It was that version which the Rep presented.

The cast was led by Rep newcomers Heather Ayers and Pat McRoberts. Kelly Vivian, Thomas-David McDonald, Rick Cox, Julie Conners, Marlene Toth and Steve Wilkerson also were featured.

Others in the cast included Bob Hulsey, Amy Curnow, Annie Mistak, Allison Stodola, Sarah Squire, Miranda Vannoy, Pamela Crane, Buddy Reeder, Case Dillard, Christopher Brown, Don Hill, Daryl Minefee, Matt Crowle, Christopher Crane, Scott Duquette and Joe Terry.

Ron Hutchens was the choreographer. Others on the creative team included Mike Nichols (set), Yslan Hicks (costumes), Japhy Weideman (sound), and Leland Jones (lighting).

The production proved so successful that even before its June 1, 2001, opening night, the run was extended a week. It closed on June 24, instead of the original June 17.

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: A CHORUS LINE on the UALR stage

IMG_0274In April 1975 A Chorus Line premiered Off Broadway before transferring to Broadway in July 1975. In 1976, it became only the fifth musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Whereas the composer of the first musical to win the Pulitzer was not honored (apparently because he only wrote music, not actual words), with A Chorus Line’s citation, the Pulitzers recognized not only librettists James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, lyricist Edward Kleban, and composer Marvin Hamlisch, but also Michael Bennett who conceived the project and steered its development.

In October 1985, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock became one of the first non-professional organizations to ever perform  A Chorus Line.  The theatre department was planning on producing Chicago, but dropped that show when rights for A Chorus Line became available.  (Chicago was on Broadway at the same time as A Chorus Line and was often overshadowed by it.)

In preparation for the show, UALR (as it was then known) conducted a dance workshop in August 1985 conducted by alum Kerry Kennedy, who had appeared in the national and international tours of the show.  After the workshop, auditions were held and the rehearsal process started.

Many familiar names in the Little Rock theatre scene from the 1970s to the present were involved in A Chorus Line.  The production was directed by Carolyn Curry, choreographed by Dot Callanen, and music directed by Lori Loree.  Jay Jagim provided the scenic and lighting design, while Joy Breckenridge was costume designer.

The cast was led by Tom Crone as Zach, the director of the show within the show, and Janet Ford as Cassie.  Other performers included Lee Borchert, Sara Cole, Missy Cook, Greg Donaldson, Jo Bocage Few, Dennis Glasscock, Leslie Hall (who joined the cast two weeks before opening), John Hartman, William R Holloway, Shawn Lynnette Jackson, Traci Presley, Joey Stocks, Allison Streepey, Joe Terry, Kevin Trippe, and Scarlet White.

Rounding out the company were Paula A. Barr, Kelly Bascue, Melanie Cameron, Caran Curry, Leigh Anne Embrey, James Finch, Tijuana McKnight, Leah McSpadden, Rick Riley, Karissa Rushing, and Curtis B. Tate.

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.