31 Days of Arkansas Rep: THE ELEPHANT MAN in 2009

Thirty years after it opened on Broadway, Arkansas Rep presented The Elephant Man.  Due to anticipated renovations at the Rep’s main stage, it was performed at Wildwood Park in the Cabe Festival Theatre.

Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker directed this production which starred Rep veteran Steve Wilkerson in the title role. Wilkerson, who had previously shown his skill and versatility in such varied roles as Peter Pan and Prior Walter, displayed his talents and physicality in portraying the deformed John Merrick.

Another Rep veteran, Joe Graves, played the doctor who befriended Merrick.  Others in the cast were Matt Walker, Nathan Klau, Val Landrum, Alanna Hammill Newton, and Wesley Mann.

The creative team included Mike Nichols (scenery), Marianne Custer (costumes), Matthew Webb (lighting), M. Jason Pruzin (sound), and Lynda J. Kwallek (props). The original score was composed by Buddy Habig, a Little Rock musician who died in December 2008.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: LES MISERABLES in 2008

The 33rd season of Arkansas Rep opened with its most expensive and expansive production to date – the Tony winning LES MISERABLES.

Rep Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp helmed the production.  With a cast of 29 actors, most of whom played multiple parts, there were over 500 costume pieces, designed by Rafael Colon Castanera. The expansive musical was properly fitted into the Rep’s intimate space due to the scenic design of Robert Kovach.

Douglas Webster and Christopher Carl led the cast as Valjean and Javert, respectively. Maria Couch, Chris Newell, Jeanine Pacheco, Evan Shyer, Nina Sturtz, Mike Accardo and Catherine Smitko played other principal roles.

The cast also included Shelby Kirby, Julia Landfair, Molly Russ, Gracie Stover, Kelsie Adkisson, Michael Bartholmey, Conly Basham, Dustin Beam, Susan Belcher, Luke Bridges, Hannah Bruce, Andrew Buck, Kyle Huey, Mark Ludden, Jeremy Matthey, Laura Medford, Rick Qualls, Matthew Tatus, Pittman Ware and Tyler Whiteside.

Others on the creative team were M. Jason Pruzin (sound), Michael Eddy (lighting), Lynda J. Kwallek (props), Robert Harper (choreography), and D. C. Wright (fight choreography).

The production ran from September 12 through October 12 of 2008.  In March 2014, Webster and Carl returned to the show at Arkansas Rep, again directed by Hupp.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 2006’s A CHORUS LINE

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre put it all on the line — the chorus line when they presented the 1976 Pulitzer Prize winning A CHORUS LINE in 2006. Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker, this was one of the last productions allowed before a Broadway revival.

The musical, set in an audition for an unnamed musical, featured a cast of 25 triple threats.  Bob Gaynor and Kathryn Mowat Murphy played the leading roles of Zach and Cassie. The latter had played the role three times previously, each directed by a member of the original Broadway production of the show.

Others in the cast were Joi Chen, Case Dillard, Allison Stodola, Steven Baker, Darryl Calmese Jr., DJ Chase, Tony Falcon, Matt Gibson, Colleen Hawks, Hollie Howard, Kolina Janneck, Christina LaDuca, Deborah Leamy, Miguel A. Romero, Michael Susko and Melanie Waldron.

Rounding out the cast were Dennis Glasscock, Matthew D. Brooks, Lauren Farrell, Joey Murray, Cameron Wade, Eric T. Mann and Kim Scott.

The creative team included choreographer Lynne Kurdziel Formato (in her second collaboration with Baker at the Rep), Kristy Nicholson (musical director), Mike Nichols (scenery), Yslan Hicks (costumes), M. Jason Pruzin (sound) and Ken White (lighting).

The production played from June 2 through July 2 of 2006.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: GYPSY in 2003

In June 2003, the Arkansas Rep went back to the dying days of vaudeville when it presented Gypsy.  Written by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, this musical fable looks at the end of vaudeville and the rise of Gypsy Rose Lee.  It was directed by Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker.

Baker said he had long wanted to do the show, but credited Bob Hupp (his successor as the Rep’s Producing Artistic Director) with figuring out a way to make it happen.

Mary Robin Roth took on the role of Mama Rose. She had previously played Miss Hannigan in Annie at the Rep.  Broadway vets Trista Moldovan and Joyce Chittick played Rose’s daughters Louise and June. In real life those grew up to be Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc.  Others in the cast of approximately 30 included John Kudan, Nicholas Dromard, and Steve Wilkerson.

The creative team included Mike Nichols (scenery), Margaret A. McKowen (costumes), David Neville (lighting) and M. Jason Pruzin (sound). Ron Hutchins choreographed, and Eric Alsford was the musical director.

Even before opening night, the production was extended a week and ended on July 6 instead of June 29.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: THE LEGACY PROJECT: IT HAPPENED IN LITTLE ROCK

Since today is Elizabeth Eckford’s birthday, the past Arkansas Rep production that is featured is 2007’s The Legacy Project: It Happened in Little Rock.

Culled from three years of research and over 80 interviews, playwright and director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj created a multi-faceted play with music that explored stories past and present of Central High’s desegregation and the legacy the events of those years have provided citizens of Little Rock, of Arkansas and of the United States.

The cast featured Destan Owens (playing parallel roles of a 1957 Harlem reporter and a 2007 artist (a stand-in for Maharaj) as well as nine other actors who played multiple roles of diverse ethnicity — from current Central students to the Little Rock Nine, from elected officials to blue-collar workers.  Those actors were J. Bernard Calloway, Mary-Pat Green, Taifa Harris, Shannon Lamb, Vanessa Lemonides, Arthur W. Marks, Gia McGlone, Nick Petrie and Julian Rebolledo.

The creative team included Sybil Roberts Williams (dramaturg), Michael Susko (choreographer and assistant director), Charles Creath (musical director) Steve Hudelson (musician), Mike Nichols (scenic design), Matthew Webb (lighting design), Leslie Bernstein (costume design), M. Jason Pruzin (sound design) and Lynda Kwallek (properties). Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp and Education Director Leslie Golden were also involved in shepherding the project over the years.

Funding for the production came, in part, from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The production ran from September 14 to September 30, 2007, in conjunction with other events commemorating the 50th anniversary.

In 2008, Maharaj directed a play called Little Rock Off Broadway. While a separate piece of drama, it was based on the research he conducted and infused by his experiences creating The Legacy Project: It Happened in Little Rock.

 

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: Lawrence Hamilton in THE PIANO LESSON at Arkansas Rep

LawrenceHamiltonAugust Wilson received his second Pulitzer for The Piano Lesson in 1990.   It was thirteen years later, that play would take the stage of Arkansas Rep in January 2003  And while he was not the lead, local favorite Lawrence Hamilton shone in the play.

Hamilton played Wining Boy, a musician and gambler who was smooth at hiding his secrets. (This being an August Wilson play, almost every character had secrets.)  Others in the cast were J. Bernard Calloway and Trish McCall as the brother and sister at the center of the play who were struggling about the future of a family heirloom.  Kevin E. Jones, Veronika G. Macon, Ron Scott, Dennis Bivings, and Marsha Murdock rounded out the cast.

The production was directed by Gilbert McCauley.  The design team included Mike Nichols (set), Yslan Hicks (costumes), Matthew Richards (lighting) and M. Jason Pruzin (sound).

Hamilton would revisit the role of Wining Boy in a production at Cape Fear Regional Theatre just a few weeks before his 2014 death.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: NEXT TO NORMAL on Arkansas Rep stage

ndnextThe line “Valium is my favorite color” was uttered on the Arkansas Rep stage in 2012 when the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Next to Normal was performed.

The show was a surprise winner of the 2010 Pulitzer for Drama.  It had not been one of the three finalists selected by the jury, but was picked for the honor by the Pulitzer Board.

With music by Tom Kitt and a book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, Next to Normal is a powerful rock musical about a mentally ill suburban mom who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that illness has on her family.

The Arkansas Rep cast featured Deb Lyons as Diana — the mother of the family, Jonathan Rayson as her husband Dan, Kristin Parker and Will Holly as their children, Mo Brady as a friend of the family and Peter James Zielinski playing a pair of physicians.

Helen Gregory was the Musical Director. Other members of the creative team included Mike Nichols (scenic designer), Shelly Hall (costume designer), Michael J. Eddy (lighting designer), M. Jason Pruzin (sound designer) and Lynda J. Kwallek (properties designer).

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.