Robinson Redux – February

grand opening adHere are some of the highlights from the annals of the Robinson Center Music Hall nee Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  This entry looks at bookings from Februarys in years ending with an 0 or 5.

The building was officially dedicated on February 16, 1940.  A few days earlier a children’s theatre troupe had entertained school kids with a performance in the music hall.  Also that month high school basketball continued in the exhibition hall.  The month had kicked off with a much more glamorous event as the Movie Ball took place in the exhibition hall.

The year 1945 featured a ecumenical Christian Youth Rally on February 4, a concert featuring Tito Guizar on February 7, the operetta Blossom Time on February 8 and the long-running comedy Life with Father on February 19.   In 1950, Robinson’s offerings ran from the Grand Ole Opry featuring Hank Williams (February 5), to Dick Contino (February 8) to the magician Blackstone (February 10 & 11) as well as the opera Il Trovatore (February 15) and a recital featuring Mrs. Rece Price (February 21).

By the mid 1950s, the touring business was changing.  The only notable booking at Robinson in February 1955 was on February 20 as it featured the Duke of Paducah and a little known singer from Mississippi named Elvis Presley.  Five years later, Jackie Wilson and Jesse Belvin headlined a concert on February 5, 1960. The Venable Quartet and several other gospel groups performed on February 12 and the Beaux Arts Bal de Tete took place on February 19.  In 1965, Donald Voorhees and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra were in concert on February 21.

February 1970 showed much more activity.  Husband and wife Phil Ford and Mimi Hines starred in the national tour of I Do! I Do! on February 6 & 7. That show had been a hit on Broadway in the 1966-1967 season. Another hit from that season, Cabaret, played on February 19 & 20 with Tandy Cronyn starring.  In between, contralto Bernadette Greevy presented a recital.

Musician Jerry Jeff Walker performed at Robinson on February 23, 1975.  Earlier that month (February 19), the national tour of Pippin stopped by with Barry Williams (aka Greg Brady) in the title role.  Five years later, Ballet Arkansas welcomed Cynthia Gregory and Patrick Bissell in a performance on February 7, 1980. Later that month Mason Williams and his Bluegrass Band performed with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra on February 23.  The next two nights, a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar took the stage.

David Copperfield kicked off February 1985 with two shows on the 1st.  The next day the musical The Cotton Patch Gospel was performed.  Musican Carman performed on February 25.  In February 1990, Peabo Bryson and jazz extraordinaire Billy Mitchell shared the stage on February 22.

In 1995, the focus was on music.  There was “An Evening with John Bayless” on February 7 as part of the Greater Little Rock Community Concert Association.  On February 11, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra presented an evening of music of Rodgers & Hammerstein.  A few days later on February 17, various musical groups presented an evening of gospel music. The next night, Gladys Knight shook the house in a concert.  The month ended on February 28 with Nancy Griffith and the Blue Moon Orchestra. A February 8 concert with Della Reese was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

Five years later, highlights included a tour of Camelot on February 15 – 18, and a staged concert version of the opera La Boheme presented by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  In 2005, Kenny Loggins performed with the Arkansas Symphony on the 11 & 12. The ASO also presented an all Tchaikovsky concert with Jon Kimura Parker on piano.  Earlier in the month, President George W. Bush hosted a town hall forum on Social Security at Robinson Center.

In 2010, the ASO Valentine Pops concert featured Christiane Noll and Doug LaBrecque.  From February 16-18 STOMP rang out throughout Robinson.  The month ended on a more quieter note as the ASO and Philippe Quint presented the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius.

12 Days of Christmas Movies: HOLIDAY INN & WHITE CHRISTMAS

Holiday WhiteToday’s Christmas movie(s) are combined because they share a star, a composer and a song.  The latter is often erroneously referred to as a remake of the former.

Irving Berlin’s 1924 black & white Holiday Inn tells the tale of a crooner (Bing Crosby) who retires from show business to start an inn which would only be open on holidays.  Fred Astaire plays his former song and dance partner who has a knack for stealing all of Bing’s girlfriends. The rest of the cast is largely forgettable, indeed most did not have extensive careers before or after this movie.  One exception is the underused Louise Beavers stuck in the role of Crosby’s domestic at the Inn.  She had leading roles in several movies, but due to her race and the time, would still find herself playing maids and cooks with little onscreen time too much of her career.

The real gem here is the score. Though there are some forgettable (“I Can’t Tell a Lie”) and embarrassing (“Abraham”) but this also features “Happy Holidays,” “Be Careful It’s My Heart,” and “Easter Parade” (which Berlin had written for a musical revue in the 1930s).  The knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark breakaway hit was “White Christmas,” which went on to win the Oscar for Best Song.

(As a side note, this movie was the inspiration for the name of the hotel chain when it started in the 1950s.)

Twelve years later, Crosby, Berlin and “White Christmas” reunited for the film White Christmas.  By now color movies were more common, and the powers that be wanted Crosby singing the song in a color movie.  This time Crosby is joined by Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.  Oscar winner Dean Jagger and character actress Mary Wickes round out the leading roles.

For this film, Berlin supplied a new score, only repeating “White Christmas.” Though several of the songs were already popular in the Berlin songbook.  The main joy in this movie is to see Crosby, Clooney, Kaye and Vera-Ellen at the peak of their careers.

Though most of the songs work in this movie, there is one which doesn’t seem to fit. “Choreography” is a spoof of modern dance. It falls flat and drags the movie down. Though if you look at the chorus, you can see future Oscar winner George Chakiris of West Side Story fame.

It may be surprising that Michael Curtiz directed this film. He is often remembered today as the Oscar winning director of Casablanca (and justifiably so). But in his career he often bounded between light fare (Yankee Doodle Dandy, Life with Father) and heavier (Mildred Pierce, Angels with Dirty Faces) with some adventure films (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood) thrown in.

Separately or together, Holiday Inn and White Christmas are fun Christmas movies.  White Christmas is the stronger of the two, partly because all of the characters are likeable.