31 Days of Arkansas Rep: THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD opens new theatre in 1988

While audience members were tasked with solving THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD at Arkansas Rep in October 1988, they also had the chance to explore the new home for the Rep. This Tony winning musical marked the opening of the new Main Street location after twelve years in the converted church adjacent to MacArthur Park.

The move to Main Street had been in the works for over three years. It was announced around the same time The Mystery of Edwin Drood was being rehearsed for its original Off Broadway production. In the interim, this musical whodunnit written and composed by Rupert Holmes had transferred to Broadway and won the 1986 Tony Award for Best Musical.

Terry Sneed and Theresa Quick led the cast, which was directed by Cliff Fannin Baker. Others in the cast of 29 included Art Arney, Don Bolinger, Richard Glover, Julianne Griffin, Vivian Morrison, and Debbie Weber.

Sharon Douglas was the pianist and music director. Others on the creative team included Keith Belli (set), Kathy Gray (lighting), and Mark Hughes (costumes).

Audience members actually had three mysteries to solve each night: who killed Drood, who was disguising themself as Dick Datchery, and which lovers would be united at the end.  This meant the actors had to learn a variety of options and endings, and be prepared to perform them at a moment’s notice.

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31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1988’s PAGEANT

While originally envisioned as a potential first show in the new Main Street home for Arkansas Rep, the world premiere of the musical PAGEANT took place instead at the Rep’s original home at 11th and McAlmont Streets.  (The new theatre space would not open until October 1988.)

Conceived by Cliff Fannin Baker (who would direct as well), this show featured a series of vignettes exploring a variety of aspects of beauty pageants – competing in them, watching them, having daughters in them, etc. The songs were all written by Michael Rice (who had previously composed The Good Woman of Setzuan at Arkansas Rep). The various scenarios in the libretto were authored by Baker, Jack Heifner, Romulus Linney, Kent R. Brown, Hank Bates, and Mary Rhode.

The seven women in the cast (who were on stage the entire time) were played by Kimberly Ann Cunningham, Brenda Kaye Westbrook, Mimmye Goode, Julianne Griffin, Karen Heck, Vivian Morrison, and Margaret Wyatt-Kinney.  Cunningham and Westbrook had both previously competed in beauty pageants. The creative team included Mike Nichols (sets), Mark Hughes (costumes), and Kathy Gray (lighting).

The production ran from January 21, 1988 through February 21, 1988.

It has since been retitled American Beauty and is available for licensing.

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.