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: 1988’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS

The final Arkansas Rep production in its original home was Robert Harling’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS.  Demand for tickets was so strong that the run was extended by over a week even before the show opened. (Having the next show opening in the new space probably allowed for this extension to be possible because there was not a concern about an overlap of space needs.)

This tale of six Southern women of varying ages featured Victoria Holloway and Casey Alexander as a mother and daughter, Theresa Quick and Francine Thomas as the owner of a beauty salon and her employee, with Francis Kemp and Candyce Hinkle as a pair of lifelong friends rounding out the cast.

Selected by Cliff Fannin Baker, the show was still running Off Broadway and had not yet been made into a movie when it was announced for the Rep’s season.  The show was directed by Cathey Crowell Sawyer.  The creative team included Mike Nichols (set), Mark Hughes (costumes), Robert A. Jones (lighting) and Sheri Bethel (sound).

Nichols and Hinkle would reunite with this title when the Rep mounted it to kick off the 30th season in 2005.