NINE a 10

imageOne would be hard pressed to find a stronger volunteer theatre production than the Studio Theatre’s current offering of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopjt’s Tony Award winning musical NINE. (The term “volunteer” theatre is used because “amateur,” “community,” or “non-professional” belie the quality of the production.)

Rafael Colon Castanera’s production is both visually stunning and full of surprises. The cohesive ensemble is up to the task of telling this compelling, complex tale in an entertaining and enchanting manner. They find the humor and humanity in these sometimes thinly sketched characters and scenarios.

The anchor of the production is James Norris as auteur Guido Contini. He deftly morphs from reality to fantasy while juggling numerous romantic conquests and searching for fulfillment. It is a challenging role because Guido is, at the same time, supposed to be worthy of the audience’s sympathy while also behaving in a unsympathetic manner.  Norris had many touching moments as the man-child desperately seeking something. A fearless actor, he threw himself into the role whether the moment called for romance, humor or desperation. These different moods are also reflected in the wide range of singing styles required of the role–all of which he handled skillfully.

As the younger version of Guido, Price Clark showed maturity beyond his years. His performance of “Getting Tall” at the end wrapped up the show as a lesson to the audience about the challenges and opportunities of getting older. Clark also had a wonderful rapport with both Norris (acting as a mentor to his older self) and Beth Ross as his mother (showing love, respect and embarrassment).

Ross was one of many in the cast who had the chance to showcase a wider range of their talents. Often cast in wisecracking roles, she here displayed a maternal warmth and daffiness as well as weariness and frustration. Likewise Julie Atkins often plays long-suffering, noble women. In this show she had the chance to show her comic skills and her bawdiness as an all-knowing spa proprietor. Often playing heartbreaking heroines, Erin Martinez zealously attacked her role as a tambourine-wielding unapologetically, earthy strumpet.

Antisha Anderson-Scruggs was audacious and bodacious as one of Guido’s mistresses. She was bawdy but never crass as she flaunted her sexuality. Anderson-Scruggs also displayed depth as her character faced disappointment with resolve and a new-found strength.

As another mistress, Rachel Warnick elegantly captured the persona of a classic European beauty who is no longer content with being a trophy. She was grateful and forgiving toward Guido, but resolute nonetheless to pursue her new life.

Mary Ann Hansen put the gal in Gallic as a gamine French film producer. She relished her moments in the spotlight and evoked a bygone era as she celebrated a past career (and joyously took the audience along on this reflective journey). Amy Young and K. L. Martin played her entourage; the pair enjoyably insulted, threatened and otherwise antagonized Guido each in her own way.

Elena McKinnis, Bailey Lamb and Moriah Patterson were a protean trio who functioned as a sort of Greek chorus (or was it Italian chorus?) playing various parts and keeping action moving.  Together with Martin, these performers showcased their dancing talents as showgirls during the musical within a musical numbers.

Heather Smith was Guido’s long-suffering wife. While clearly in love with him, she was also weary of her stagnant life.  A high point of her performance was her sung defense of him to the press in which she is convincing them of his sincerity, while also trying to convince herself.

As director, Castanera elicited layered performances from each of the actors and kept the action moving seamlessly.  As designer, he used a deceptively simple, classically elegant scenic design as a framework for the action. Tyler Herron’s transformative lighting and Greg Wirges’ evocative sound design reflected the many different moods and settings.

The orchestra led by music director Bob Bidewell played almost nonstop through this cinematic, nearly operatic production. This lush score has many moods which were ably performed without overpowering the actors.

The costumes by Castanera are almost worth the cost of admission by themselves. Each character was uniquely clad in black attire that reflected their character down to minute details. It is safe to say this show has the most intricate and lavish costumes of any volunteer theatre production in Little Rock history. For the “film” sequence, Castanera mixed some white in with the black and created fantastic, over the top ensembles (again often with unique and humorous touches). The wigs by Robert Pickens were the same quality as the costumes. Together, wigs and costumes helped define the characters without distracting from the actors’ performances.

As a musical, NINE has challenges. In the wrong hands the characters can be vapid and unlikeable.  It is also vocally demanding. Much like the source material (a semi-autobiographical Italian film), it has moments of absurdity and a plot which wavers between linear and concept. But NINE also has enormous warmth, heart and joy. The Studio Theatre’s production captures these merits without betraying the complexities of the characters. NiINE is another step forward in the development of both The Studio Theatre as well as volunteer theatre in Central Arkansas.

NINE continues April 4, 9-12 and 16-19. Performances are at 7pm except for Sundays, which are at 2pm.

NINE next at Studio Theatre

The 1982 Tony winning Best Musical Nine takes the stage oimagef the Studio Theatre tonight to begin a three week run.

Written by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit, and based on Fellini’s autobiographical 8 1/2, it tells the story of Guido Contini, a filmmaker, and the women in his life.

This production is directed by Rafael Colon Castanera with musical direction by Bob Bidewell.  Castanera also designed the set and costumes as well as co-choreographed the musical with Bailey Lamb.  Tyler Herron designed the lighting and served as assistant director.  Robert Pickens designed the wigs, Greg Wirges designed the sound, and Cara Smith is the stage manager.

The cast includes Antisha Anderson-Scruggs, Julie Atkins, Price Clark, Mary Ann Hansen, Bailey Lamb, Elena McKinnis, K. L. Martin, Erin Martinez, James Norris, Moriah Patterson, Beth Ross, Heather Smith, Rachel Warnick and Amy Young.

Performances are tonight (an opening night gala), Saturday (April 4), April 9 through 12 and April 16 through 19.  Showtimes are 7pm on Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2pm on Sundays.

 

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, http://www.weekendtheater.org; 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.

Weekend Theater: LARAMIE PROJECT, TEN YEARS LATER

In the wake of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, playwright/director Moises Kaufman and several colleagues visited the site of the crime.  The outcome of their interviews was the performance piece The Laramie Project, which the Weekend Theater presented a few seasons back.

In 2008, Kaufman and colleagues revisited Laramie and revisited some of the interviewees. They also conducted interviews with new people who had been involved in the 1998 incident, including two of young men who attacked and killed Shepard. The result of these interviews was The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.

Duane Jackson, who directed the Weekend Theater’s production of the previous play, helms this production.  The cast includes David Anderson, Johnnie Brannon, Alan Douglas, Jeremy Estill, Julie Atkins, Sally Graham, Regi Ott, and Roben Sullivant.  Each actor portrays a variety of characters in this tale of a town and an entire nation.

The production opens on Friday, January 13 and plays the next three weekends.  Showtimes are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Jan. 28. Tickets, $16 for general admission and $12 for students and seniors age 65 and over can be reserved by calling (501) 374-3761 or online at www.weekendtheater.org.

Sponsors for this production are Canvas Community Church, Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church, Open Door Community Church, and New Beginnings Church of Central Arkansas.

Arts & Humanities Month: PIPPIN at The Weekend Theatre

The Weekend Theatre’s production of Pippin continues this weekend and runs through October 23 (which is the 39th anniversary of the show’s official opening on Broadway).  Shows start at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday nights and 2:30 on Sunday afternoons.

Tonight, (October 13), there is a special “Magic to Do” performance.  Doors open at 6:15 p.m., with food and a chance to mingle with the cast, followed by a magic show at 7 p.m. featuring David Weatherly, assisted by other cast members. The performance of “Pippin” begins at 7:30 p.m.

Pippin is a fanciful musical by Roger O. Hirson and Stephen Schwartz. It tells the tale of a young man searching for his place in the world and his corner of the sky.  The cast is led by Malcolm Glover, Craig Wilson, Julie Atkins, Byron Taylor, Charlie Askew, Evan Tanner, Pamela Crane and Patti German.  John C. Thompson directed the production, which was first directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse.