31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 2017’s SISTER ACT

Based on the 1990s film of the same name, Sister Act marked Cliff Fannin Baker’s final directing assignment at Arkansas Rep.

No one knew it at the time, which is just as well. It was a joyous uplifting experience which was what Cliff would have wanted people to have for his final Rep show.

The show was selected by Bob Hupp to be part of the transition season after his departure. Baker had previously indicated interest in directing the show if Hupp ever programmed it for the Rep.

So from January 24, 2017 through March 5, 2017, Baker’s production filled the Rep.  It had originally been set to end on February 26 but was extended a week.

The cast was led by Soara-Joye Ross with Tracy Bidleman, Erica Lutstig, Susan J. Jacks, Jennie Boone, Patrick Clanton, Monte J. Howell, Cornelius Davis, Ton Castellanos, and Darryl Winslow. Little Rock favorites in the cast included Vivian Norman, Kathryn Pryor, Jay Clark, Monica Robinson, Kelley Ponder, Erin Martinez Warner, Zachary Meyers, and Taylor Quick. KATV’s Alyson Courtney made a cameo as a 1970s TV reporter.

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31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1985 World Premiere of THE GOOD WOMAN OF SETZUAN

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre set the American regional theatre world abuzz with its world premiere of a musical version of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan.

Director Cliff Fannin Baker received many telephone calls from his colleagues who were surprised that the Brecht estate had given its authorization for a musicalization to a small professional theatre in Little Rock.

The songs were written by Arkansas native Michael Rice using as a libretto the Eric Bentley translation of the original Brecht work. Rice also served as music director, leading a seven member orchestra as it played the nineteen songs he wrote.

As director, Baker used many Brechtian techniques to stay true to the story. These included music, neon signs, and non-traditional costuming for some of the characters.  Speaking of costumes, Little Rock fashion designer Connie Fails designed the clothing for the production.

Others on the creative team included Michael R. Smith (a set that was described as “dazzling, trashily opulent”) and Kathy Gray.

The title character was played by Vivian Morrison (now Vivian Norman). Other leading roles were played by Mark Johnson, Terry Sneed, Dianne Tack, and Mychael McMillan (in drag).  Playing a trio of gods were Ronald J. Aulgur, Scott Edmonds, and Candyce Hinkle. Others in the cast included Jean Lind, Ruth Shepherd, Kathryn Pryor, Judy Trice, Carol Ann Connor (now McAdams), Ginny Pace, and Jeff Bailey.

The production took place at the Arkansas Arts Center Theatre instead of the Rep’s facility on 11th Street.  With a cast of twenty and extensive set changes, the production needed more space than the Rep’s home could accommodate.

The Good Woman of Setzuan opened on June 13 and ran through June 22.

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.

Creative Class 2016: Kathryn Pryor

cc16-pryorWhile she may be a successful attorney by day, Kathryn Pryor, is also an accomplished singer and actor.

Having grown up appearing on stage, it is no surprise she continues to appear in productions throughout Central Arkansas.

Earlier this year she reprised her role of Hillary Clinton in the biennial political spoof Gridiron.   Over the years she has also played leading roles 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.

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.

Thrice Trice, or Tony Toni Tone

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Last night at the 68th Tony Awards, Little Rock native Will Trice (pictured above at the ceremonynwith his sister Kathryn Pryor and mother Judy Trice) earned his third Tony as a producer, in as many years. Robert Schenkkan’s political drama All the Way was named Best Play. In accepting the award, lead producer Jeffrey Richards paid special tribute to Will.

Last year, Will won a Tony for producing a revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and in 2012 he earned the rotating silver medallion for a revival of Porty and Bess.

There were 26 Tonys handed out last night, Will was a producer of four shows which won Tonys. these accounted for seven of the awards. over one quarter of the Tonys last night went to shows he produced.

Best Play – All the Way
Actor in a Play – Bryan Cranston, All the Way
Actress in a Play – Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Score – Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
Orchestrations – Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
Lighting Design of a Play – Natasha Katz, The Glass Menagerie
Sound Design of a Play – Steve Canyon Kennedy, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill