31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1995’s THE RAINMAKER

N. Richard Nash’s romantic drama with comedy, The Rainmaker took over the Arkansas Rep stage in January and February 1995. Following the run in Little Rock, it toured the US through April of that year.

The production was directed by Rep founder and Artistic Director Cliff Fannin Baker. It reunited him with several long-time Rep actors Vivian Morrison, Ronald J. Aulgur, Steve Wilkerson, Richard Glover, and Mark Johnson.

Baker had previously directed Robert Standley in a production of the show, and brought him in to reprise his role as the title character.  Rounding out the cast was Rep newcomer John Stiritz.

The creative team included Mike Nichols (sets), Don Bolinger (costumes), David Neville (lighting) and Chip Salerno (sound).  Salerno also wrote and recorded the music which underscored the production.

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31 Days of Arkansas Rep: OVATION! in 1999

Upon his retirement (the first time) from Arkansas Rep, founder and artistic director Cliff Fannin Baker was feted with a special performance celebrating his career with the Rep.  The entire evening was called “Ovation!” and included a pre-performance reception, a special revue celebrating Cliff’s career, and a performance of As Bees in Honey Drown, which Cliff directed.

Ruth Shepherd and Helen Buchanan co-chaired the evening, which took place on September 21, 1999.  Jana Beard was involved in the conception and direction of the performance.

The program started with a welcome from Mimi Dortch, the first Rep Board chair; Bill Rector, a former Rep Board chair who had been instrumental in the move to the Rep’s Main Street location; and Carol Corley, who was the 1999-2000 Rep Board chair.

The performers included Michael Davis, Don Bolinger, Shannon Farmer, Vivian Morrison Norman, Candyce Hinkle, Debbie Rawn, Jana Beard, Debbie Weber, Mary Twedt Cantrell, Mark Johnson, Judy Blue., Jean Lind, and Phyllis Blumenfeld.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton sent a videotaped message that was played and followed by a video which highlighted Cliff’s career.  Lt. Governor Winthrop Rockefeller presented Cliff with the 1999 Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.  Also that evening, longtime Rep staffers Lynn Frazier and Guy Couch were presented with Cliff Fanning Baker Awards for extraordinary service to the Rep.

After a brief intermission, the evening continued with As Bees in Honey Drown. The show was directed by Cliff and was the final show of the Cliff Fannin Baker era (Part I).

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: The 1986 production of THE FOREIGNER

Blasny Blasny.  Larry Shue’s 1984 farce THE FOREIGNER made its first of four appearances on the Arkansas Rep stage in January 1986.

Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker, it featured Terry Sneed as the title character, a mild-mannered man who pretends to be a non-English speaking foreigner to avoid interactions with locals at a small-town hunting resort.

Others in the cast were Steve Wilkerson, Mark Johnson, Ron Aulgur, Scott Edmonds, Natalie Canderday and Jean Lind.

The production ran from January 16 through February 9 of 1986. It was so popular that it sold out its run. Standing room only ticket holders filled all available spaces.  Gov. Bill Clinton called for tickets and could not be accommodated.

It has subsequently been mounted at the Rep three times more: during the 1987/88, 1995/96 and 2008/09 seasons. It is the only play to have been staged that many times in the Rep’s history.

The 1988 staging featured Wilkerson, Sneed, and Johnson reprising their roles.

 

 

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.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1985’s CRIMES OF THE HEART

Since at least Chekov, playwrights have been fascinated with a trio of women at the center of a play.  Southerner Beth Henley put her own twist on this concept with her 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner Crimes of the Heart.

Focusing on the three Magrath sisters and their assorted friends in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, the story looks at how they come together because one of the sisters is accused of shooting her estranged husband.  A comedy with some dark undertones, it was a hit Off Broadway and then transferred to Broadway after winning the Pulitzer.

Arkansas Rep presented it in April 1985.  The cast featured Evelyn Carol Case, Cathey Crowell Sawyer and Laurel Anne White as the three sisters.  Maggie Murphy, Jeff Bailey and Mark Johnson rounded out the cast.  The show was directed by Cliff Baker, who had  directed the same show (with a different cast and design team) at the Alley Theatre earlier in 1985.

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: CRIMES OF THE HEART at Arkansas Rep

Crimes of HeartSince at least Chekov, playwrights have been fascinated with a trio of women at the center of a play.  Southerner Beth Henley put her own twist on this concept with her 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner Crimes of the Heart.

Focusing on the three Magrath sisters and their assorted friends in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, the story looks at how they come together because one of the sisters is accused of shooting her estranged husband.  A comedy with some dark undertones, it was a hit Off Broadway and then transferred to Broadway after winning the Pulitzer.

Arkansas Rep presented it in April 1985.  The cast featured Evelyn Carol Case, Cathey Crowell Sawyer and Laurel Anne White as the three sisters.  Maggie Murphy, Jeff Bailey and Mark Johnson rounded out the cast.  The show was directed by Cliff Baker, who had  directed the same show (with a different cast and design team) at the Alley Theatre earlier in 1985.

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.

Little Rock’s historic Sanders/Darrow debate recreated tonight at CALS Ron Robinson Theater

Rabbi Sanders (top) and Mr. Darrow (bottom)

Tonight the Central Arkansas Library System offers a chance to go back 85 years and one month to November 3, 1930.

On that date the nationally-known religious skeptic Clarence Darrow debated immortality with Rabbi Ira Sanders at Little Rock High School in an auditorium packed with more than 2,000 people. This event will be explored anew as the Central Arkansas Library System’s (CALS) 2015 Sanders Distinguished Lecture on Thursday, December 3, at 6:30 p.m. in the CALS Ron Robinson Theater, 100 River Market Avenue. The event is free and open to the public, and will include a reception. The reenactment is in conjunction with Temple B’nai Israel’s sesquicentennial anniversary.

Jason Thompson (Rabbi Sanders) spent ten years acting, writing, and directing for Red Octopus. At Arkansas Repertory Theatre he was featured in The Comedy of Errors, Barefoot in the Park, Wit, and One Ninth. Thompson has trained in improvisation, toured as a stand-up comedian, and performed in films, voice overs, and commercials.

Mark Johnson (Clarence Darrow) has appeared in many plays at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, including Kiss of the Spider Woman, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. His film work includes A Time to Kill, The Last Ride, and the forthcoming God’s Not Dead 2. His paintings are shown at Stephano’s Galley in the Heights. He lives in Hillcrest with his son.

The Sanders Distinguished Lecture was established in 2000 to commemorate Rabbi Sanders’ forty years of service on the Boards of Trustees of Little Rock Public Library and CALS, the lectures include topics that support Rabbi Sanders’ commitment to intellectual freedom. Past speakers include Taylor Branch, Alex Kurzem, James Cone, John M. Barry, Ron Mallett, Bobby Roberts, and Lilly Ledbetter.

Reservations are requested, but not required. RSVP online via Eventjoy. For more information contact 918-3000.