Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Central to Creativity – Kathryn Pryor

While she may be a successful attorney by day, Kathryn Pryor, is also an accomplished singer and actor.

Having grown up appearing on stage (including starring in productions while a student at Central High School), it is no surprise she continues to appear in productions throughout Central Arkansas.

In 2016, she reprised her role of Hillary Clinton in the biennial political spoof Gridiron.   Earlier this year, she appeared in Arkansas Rep’s production of SISTER ACT.   Over the years she has also played leading roles on various Little Rock stages in GYPSY, CABARET, SWEENEY TODD, COMPANY, VICTOR/VICTORIA, SOUTH PACIFIC, and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG.  

In addition, she has appeared in New York in a cabaret act with her brother Will Trice. For the 2015 edition of the Arkansas Arts Center’s Tabriz, she and Will reprised their act.

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Drive (or walk or bike) to MISS DAISY

TWT DMDBecause of the success and awards of the movie version, and the way some of the lines have entered the vernacular especially as comic punch lines, it is easy to forget that Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy is a quiet, unassuming play. He did not set out to write a “great” play or a social screed, in fact it was quite a surprise when it won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The Weekend Theater brings Uhry’s episodic drive through the decades to life in its current offering. Under Andy Hall’s deft direction, it avoids the treacly trap that can often befall productions of this three-hander.

It is not that Hall’s production is without sentiment, but the emotions on stage are grounded in the moment. There is no mawkish lingering when the characters make an emotional connection. Considering that the script calls for cyclical closeness and distance among the trio, keeping emotions in check and in the moment serves the story and the playwright.

The plot, as if anyone needs a précis, involves a well-off (but don’t call her rich) Jewish widow, her businessman son, and the African American chauffer engaged by said son to transport said mother. Even if the audience was unfamiliar with the plot, it is pretty obvious that the titular matron and her driver will move from adversaries to unlikely friends. While the destination may be a formulaic and foregone conclusion, just like taking a trip, joy can be found in the journey.

Jermaine McClure plays the driver, Hoke. He avoids the stereotype of being the long-suffering, noble, simple-but-wise, African American. Though the part is not written that way, it has often been acted that way. His Hoke is kind, respectful, joyous, and a bit mischievous. McClure is obviously enjoying his part as much as Hoke enjoys interacting with both Daisy and her son. As he ages in the play, he doesn’t try to take on too much affectation—his character may move a bit slower—but he adds little touches such as prolonged squinting to show failing eyesight.

The role of the son, Boolie, is part instigator, part comic relief, and part time-filler so that the other two actors can be made to look older backstage. But Jay Clark imbues him with depth and pathos. He clearly enjoys the more comic moments (including wearing the most ridiculous Christmas outfit this side of Christmas Vacation), while also bringing heart and humanity to his quieter moments as well. Clark has a strong connection with each of his co-stars.

As good as the two gentlemen are, the evening clearly belongs to Judy Trice as Daisy Werthen. Her Daisy is a woman who has always been in control and is now grappling with the loss of that power. Her fussiness comes from frustration rather than from malice. Daisy is a complex woman who can see the biases in others without recognizing her own. Trice is not trying to be the lovable “little old lady” of heartwarming literature nor the stern battle-axe with a heart that needs to be awakened. Instead she presents a multi-faceted woman who is set in her ways but still has a desire to live a fulfilling life. With a sly smile and a drawn out word, she can be dangerous as she drops a veiled insult or commit theatrical larceny by stealing a scene through uttering a simple witticism.

Trice seems to get physically frailer as the play progresses, but that is not the most remarkable part of her transformation. Throughout the play her eyes sparkle with a vivacity that substantiates the sharp tongue and sharper mind of the heroine. Those eyes glimmer, that is, until the final scene. As she sits in near silence with a vacant, unfocused stare, it is hard to believe this is the same actress who has been so full of life throughout the rest of the play. Yet moments later the twinkle returns as she steps out to take her well-earned bow at the curtain call.

This production serves as a reminder that an enjoyable experience at the theatre does not need bells and whistles. It merely needs a strong story, adept actors, and a director who is able to meld the two.

Driving Miss Daisy continues at the Weekend Theater through April 17. Performances are at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday matinees at 2:30.


Tony Awards Week – Will Trice

Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

Though he has been referenced in every Tony Awards Week story this week, today’s entry is devoted to three time Tony winning producer Will Trice.

It is fitting he is a young, Tony winning Broadway producer.  When his mother, Little Rock actress and teacher Judy Trice, was pregnant with him, she was directing the Hall High production of The Pajama Game.  The original Broadway production of that title was produced by another young, Tony winner – Hal Prince.

Will Trice literally grew up on stage and backstage. In addition to his mother, his late father Bill Trice and his sister Kathryn Pryor have graced every conceivable stage in Central Arkansas.  Will, himself, has been an actor and entertainer.  Most recently, he and Kathryn performed their cabaret act for patrons at the Arkansas Arts Center’s Tabriz earlier this year.

Trice’s Tony Awards came for the 2014 Best Play All the Way, 2013 Best Play Revival Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the 2012 Best Musical Revival Porgy and Bess.  He also received a nomination for 2012 Best Play Revival for The Best Man.  At the 2014 Tonys, of the 26 awards presented, seven went to shows produced by Trice and his producing partner Jeffrey Richards.

This year Trice is nominated for producing Best Play nominee: Wolf Hall Parts One and Two and Best Play Revival nominee: You Can’t Take It with You.  Between those two productions and a revival of The Heidi Chronicles, Trice-produced projects earned fourteen Tony nominations this season.

Not ones to rest on their laurels, Richards and Trice have already announced revivals of Fiddler on the Roof and Sylvia for the 2015-2016 season.

It was fitting that Trice, a 1997 graduate of Central High, was a producer of the Tony-winning 50th anniversary revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 2012/2013.  Ben Piazza, a 1951 graduate of then-Little Rock High School, was involved in the development of the play in 1962 and performed in the original Broadway production over 500 performances.


Tony Awards Week – SOUTH PACIFIC – “How Far Away from Little Rock A-r-k”

southpacific_obcSeveral Tony Awards have been won by a show with a main character from Little Rock.

South Pacific opened at the Majestic Theatre on April 7, 1949 and settled in for a run of 1925 performances. Based on the James Michener Pulitzer Prize winning novel Tales of the South Pacific, it featured a book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, songs by Richard Rodgers and Hammerstein and direction by Logan. It was produced by Rodgers, Hammerstein, Logan and Leland Hayward. Set in the titular islands, it concerned the relationships of sailors, nurses, island natives and other island inhabitants.

The musical starred recent Tony winner Mary Martin as Little Rock native Nellie Forbush, opera star Ezio Pinza, stage veterans Myron McCormick and Juanita Hall, and stage newcomers William Tabbert and Betta St. John. Cloris Leachman was Martin’s understudy and would later succeed her in the part of Little Rock native Nellie Forbush.

Like other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, this show tackled tough themes – this one being prejudice. That did not set well with some theatergoers. Indeed, some potential investors did not put money into the show because of its stance. But Rodgers, Hammerstein, Logan and Hayward persisted. Their diligence paid off when the musical received the 1950 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, only the second musical to receive this designation. It is also the only Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner to be based on Pulitzer Prize winning source material. This was the first Rodgers & Hammerstein musical to not feature big dance numbers. In fact, there was no choreographer. The dance steps which existed were created by Martin, who had taught dance in her native Texas as a young mother.

Opening late in the season, South Pacific was named the 1949 New York Drama Critics Circle Best Musical, but was not part of the Tony Awards until 1950. (Though Jo Mielziner, who designed the set for South Pacific received a Tony for his set designs of shows during the 1948-49 season and South Pacific was one of the titles listed.) At the 1950 Tonys, it received six Tony Awards: Best Musical, Actor in a Musical (Pinza), Actress in a Musical (Martin), Featured Actor in a Musical (McCormick), Featured Actress in a Musical (Hall), and Director (Logan).

This is the only time that all four acting awards in the musical category went to performers in the same production. In fact, the other two acting trophies that year were incorrectly engraved as being from South Pacific out of habit. Logan’s win was also the first time that the Director Tony went for a musical, since at the time that award was not separated out among plays and musicals. Hall was the first African American to win a Tony Award for Acting.

In 1999 for the 50th anniversary and in 2008 for the opening of the first Broadway revival remaining cast members from the original production had reunions in New York City. At the 50th anniversary ceremony, a proclamation from Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey was read declaring it South Pacific day in Little Rock and honoring the show. It is interesting to note that in 1949, there were two heroines on the Broadway stage from Little Rock: Nellie Forbush from South Pacific and Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

In 2008, Lincoln Center Theatre produced the first revival of South Pacific on Broadway. It opened on April 3, just four days shy of the musical’s 59th anniversary.  The cast was led by Paulo Szot, Kelli O’Hara (as Little Rock girl Nellie Forbush), Matthew Morrison (before “Glee”), Danny Burstein and Loretta Ables Sayre.  The production restored a song which had been written for the original Broadway production that had been dropped. “My Girl Back Home” was featured in the movie version and in this Broadway revival. In it O’Hara and Morrison sang of their hometowns of Little Rock and Philadelphia.  The production was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won 7: Best Musical Revival, Actor in a Musical (Szot), Director of a Musical (Bartlett Sher), Scenic Design (Michael Yeargan), Costume Design (Catherine Zuber), Lighting Design (Donald Holder) and Sound Design (Scott Lehrer).

Sher, Yeargan, Zuber, Holder and Lehrer are all reuniting again next season to work on a revival of Fiddler on the Roof.  One of the producers of that is Little Rock native (and three time Tony winner) Will Trice.

While Trice has not starred in a production of South Pacific, his mother Judy Trice starred in a statewide tour in the 1970s. A few years later, his sister Kathryn Pryor, starred in the Central High production.


Tony Awards Week – History of theatre in Little Rock

Joe E. Brown in HARVEY

Joe E. Brown in HARVEY

Little Rock existed as a theatre town for over 100 years prior to the Tony Awards.  But since this is Tony Awards week, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” (words by my favorite lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II).

The first documented theatrical performance was on November 4, 1834, and in August 1838 the construction of the first theatre in Little Rock was announced.  Through Little Rock’s early years a variety of spaces were used for performances including the City Hall on Markham near Main Street which had been built in 1867.

The opening of the Capital Theatre in December 1885 would be Little Rock’s first large-scale, non-church space for performances and gatherings.  The Capital had a seating capacity of approximately 2,000 seats.  Designed to house theatrical productions, it also played host to civic events ranging from high school graduations (for both the white and African American high schools) to public memorials.  For instance, in 1901 it was the site of a public memorial for the recently assassinated President William McKinley.  In time, the Capital Theatre (which was situated on land that is now occupied by a portion of the Statehouse Convention Center) would be joined by a variety of other theatres, public houses, vaudeville houses and lodge halls.

The 1908 “temporary” City Auditorium probably played host to theatrical performances, but records do not exist for it.  The amphitheatre in Forest Park was home to many theatrical performances including appearances by Sarah Bernhardt.  Judy Baker Goss’s play Fond Farewell looked at one of Bernhardt’s visit to Little Rock.  (In the local production of that play, Bernhardt was played by Judy Trice, the mother of a three-time Tony winner Will Trice. His father, Bill Trice, played a Little Rock City Council member smitten with the actress.)

When Robinson Auditorium opened in 1940, it had space to host theatrical productions in the main music hall as well as in the lower level “little theatre.”  By that time, there were a variety of community theatre groups performing.  The first national tour to play in Robinson was Springtime for Henry starring Edward Everett Horton.

The first Tony winning production to play Robinson was the national tour of Harvey starring Joe E. Brown.  Brown, in fact, received a special Tony for starring in the national tour of the play.


Robinson Redux March

Blackstone adWhile Robinson Center Music Hall is closed for renovations, the Culture Vulture blog is taking a look back at previous bookings in the facility each month.

March 1940 was the first full month that Robinson Auditorium was open.  The month started with Blackstone the magician in performances from March 2 through 4. In addition to his appearance touted by the auditorium, Muswick Beverage & Cigar Company promoted his appearance, and the fact that he endorsed Budweiser beer.  Later that month, appearances included the Shrine Circus, the AAU girls basketball championship, and the Saint Louis Symphony.

March 1950 was a particularly busy month. It featured singer Vaughn Monroe on the 6th and the Arkansas State Symphony playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on the 7th.  On the lower level, a circus took up residency from the 7th through 10th.  Back upstairs in the music hall, Ballet Theatre visited performing Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” featuring ballerina Nora Kaye and conductor Max Goberman.  The month concluded on the 27th with James Dunn starring in the Pulitzer Prize winning Harvey.

In 1955, Jose Greco and His Spanish Dancers entertained audiences on March 7. Five years later, the Chicago Ballet was featured on March 26, 1960. Earlier that month (the 16th), Max Rudolf conducted the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. March 1965 feautured the Chicago Opera Ballet (on the 2nd) and an evening of country music stars including Buck Owens and Kitty Wells (on the 10th).

In March 1970, the national tour of the Broadway musical Mame starring Sheila Smith launched the month on the 6th and 7th. Later that month The Florida Boys were in concert. March 1975 saw much activity at Robinson Center. Guy Lombardo and his orchestra appeared on the 2nd and Richard Fredricks, baritone, gave a recital on the 4th, under the auspices of the Community Concert Series. On March 5 & 6, a statewide touring production of South Pacific played at Robinson. Produced by Vince Insalaco, it starred Judy Pryor (now Judy Trice) as Little Rock native Nellie Forbush. The month closed out with the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof.

March 1980 saw Dawn Wells starring in Neil Simon’s Chapter Two on the 8th. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra performed on the 15th and 16th with pianist Lorin Hollander as guest artist. Five years later, Marilyn Horne appeared with the ASO on March 2, 1985. At the same time that evening, the Shriners Ball was taking place on the lower level. Later that month a national tour of Sophisticated Ladies stopped by Robinson on the 12th. The ASO returned on March 20 & 21 with pianist Garrick Ohlsson.

The Sharks and the Jets lept on the stage on March 20, 1990, as a tour of West Side Story came to Robinson Center. The month concluded with pianist Jose Carlos Cocarelli in concert with the ASO.

Marilyn Horne returned to Little Rock, ten years and one day after her previous appearance, and performed with the ASO again on March 3, 1995. The month also included The Will Rogers Follies on March 10-12, Jazz Explosion II (with George Duke, Dianne Reeves, Phil Perry, Howard Hewett, and George Howard) on March 15, and the ASO in concert with cellist Jeffrey Solow on March 18 & 19. On March 22, the musical Raisin was performed. The cast included Peabo Bryson, Jeffrey Osborne and Lynette Hawkins.

As the 2000s rolled around, Robinson Center continued to feature an eclectic mix. In March 2000, Ann Hampton Callaway performed with the ASO on March 4 & 5. Later that month the original cast of Red, White & Tuna played at Robinson from March 14 through 19. In 2005, the national tour of Mamma Mia! played at Robinson from March 1-6. Later that month the ASO performed Broadway a la Carte with an eveningn of songs from the Great White Way (on March 18 & 19).

In 2010, the ASO performed a concert version of Porgy & Bess on March 12 & 13. It was the first time that title had ever been performed in its entirity in Arkansas. Irish dance took the stage the next night as Lord of the Dance took up residence at Robinson Center.


OTHER DESERT CITIES at the Weekend Theater

Other_Desert_Cities-PosterChristmas in California.  Snow may not be on the ground. A fire may not be needed in the fireplace. But the Wyeth family has plenty of frostiness and heat when the prodigal daughter returns.

A finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities involves a family with differing political views and a long-held family secret. Brooke Wyeth returns home to Palm Springs after a six-year absence to celebrate Christmas with her parents, her brother, and her aunt. Brooke announces that she is about to publish a memoir dredging up a pivotal and tragic event in the family’s history—a wound they don’t want reopened. In effect, she draws a line in the sand and dares them all to cross it.

The cast includes Judy Trice, Alan Douglas, Deb Lewis, Drew Ellis and Samantha Porter.  The production is directed by Ralph Hyman.

The show opened last night and continues tonight. It also plays at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays through December 20.  Tickets are $16 for adults and $12 for students and seniors.