31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1986’s ‘NIGHT, MOTHER

An Oscar winner performing on the Arkansas Rep stage is a rarity. To have one playing the same role she played in a national tour — well, that has only happened once.

From April 17 to May 4, 1986, Mercedes McCambridge starred in the Rep’s production of Marsha Norman’s two-hander ‘night, Mother. In 1984, she headlined the national tour of this same production.

McCambridge and Rep founder/Artistic Director Cliff Fannin Baker had been discussing potential project ideas for a few years.  In the mid-1980s, she lived in Little Rock. Though by 1986 she had moved away, she was glad to return for this project.

The show was directed by Baker and co-starred Cathey Crowell Sawyer.  In his Gazette review Jack Weatherly noted that it was Sawyer’s finest performance to date. Of McCambridge he opined she was “lighting up those recesses of our lives with humor and humanity.”

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Pulitzers Play Little Rock: ‘NIGHT, MOTHER on Arkansas Rep stage with Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge

MercedesIt is not often that an Oscar winner has appeared in a play on a Little Rock stage.  But in the spring of 1986, Mercedes McCambridge starred in Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother at Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

She had moved to Little Rock a few years prior to live full time to be close to family. From time to time, she and Cliff Baker (the Rep’s founder) would have conversations about potential projects. But it was not until 1986, that the stars aligned.  By this point, she had moved away from Little Rock, but was still back from time to time to visit family.  (In an interview with the Arkansas Gazette, she also praised Fred Poe and noted that he was her travel agent for her many excursions.)

Appearing on stage with McCambridge in Norman’s two-hander was Rep veteran Cathey Crowell Sawyer.

Though noted for her film work, McCambridge had appeared on Broadway several times including opposite Little Rock native Ben Piazza in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and receiving a Tony nomination for her work in the play The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks.

Prior to appearing at the Rep, she had recently toured in the play Agnes of God.  She related to the Gazette that she had been approached to do that play prior to Broadway but did not feel the character she was to play was believable.  When the national tour came about, a conversation with playwright John Pielmeier changed her mind.

Her last Broadway appearance was in Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize winning Lost in Yonkers.

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.

Single Tickets On Sale at Ark Rep on Monday

ScottishPlayThe 2015-2016 season is the 40th one for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. The audience gets the gifts.  It is not too late to subscribe, but for those wanting single tickets, the wait is almost over.  Single tickets go on sale on Monday, August 17.

The season kicks off with William Shakespeare’s Scottish play about the Thane of Cawdor and his wife Lady M. The cauldron the witches stir is not the only toil and trouble on the heaths and moors of Scotland.  It will run September 11-27.

SpellingBeeNext up is the Tony winning musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. This tuneful, witty musical with book by Rachel Sheinkin and songs by William Finn, will play from October 16 to November 8.

TheLittleMermaidDisney’s The Little Mermaid will be the holiday show running from December 4 to January 3.  It will be a regional premiere of this musical featuring a book by Pulitzer and Tony winner Doug Wright and a score by the Oscar winning team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, with additional lyrics by Glenn Slater.

Starcatcher2016 will start off with another regional premiere–Peter and the Starcatcher.  This prequel to the Peter Pan stories is by Rick Elice. Though a play, it does have some songs by Wayne Barker and Elice.  This winner of  five Tony Awards will be on stage from January 15 to February 7.

BridgesThe regional theatre premiere of The Bridges of Madison County will take place on the Arkansas Rep stage from April 8 to May 1.  This musical has a Tony winning score by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Pulitzer and Tony winner Marsha Norman.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 11.49.51 AMThe main stage season will conclude with a world premiere play Windfall.  Directed by Tony winner Jason Alexander, this comedy by Scooter Pietsch looks at greed among a group of office workers.  It will run from June 10 to 26.

The artwork for the shows for the 40th anniversary season was created by Marty Baragiola of Baragiola Creative.

The Studio Theatre offers six musicals in 2015-2016; one show still remains in current season

studioThe Studio Theatre has announced the shows for their second season.

Up first, however, is Dogfight which will close out the first season.  Adapted from the 1991 movie of the same name, Dogfight is a story of compassion, heartbreak and redemption. Winner of the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical in 2013, Dogfight runs August 20- August 23 at The Studio Theatre located at 320 West 7th Street in downtown.

The 2015-2016 season includes six musicals.  Four of them will be making their Little Rock premieres. One of the other musicals will have its first non-touring production in Little Rock.

The new season kicks off on October 22 with a show filled with scary tales about the evils of doing bad. It is the satire Reefer Madness based on the non-satirical but unintentionally hilarious 1936 movie of the same name.

This musical, written by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, premiered in Los Angeles in 1998 and Off Broadway in 2001.  The Studio Theatre production will be directed by Ryan Whitfield.  The show will run from October 22 until October 31.

The Studio Theatre had a hit in 2015 with Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years.  In January 2016, they will present his first musical Songs for a New World.  This song cycle premiered Off Broadway in 1995 and has become a popular show throughout the US.  The musical style of the score varies broadly. The thing that unites the songs is the concept of making a choice or taking a stand.

The production will be directed by Monica Clark Robinson.  Songs for a New World will run January 21 to 24.

Once upon a time, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine wrote a musical based on the Grimm Brothers’ folk tales.  Into the Woods will be the third show next season.  Opening on Broadway in 1987, it may have lost the Tony for Best Musical to The Phantom of the Opera, but it has not suffered as a popular musical.

This production of Into the Woods will run from March 10 to 26.  It will be directed by Rafael Castanera, who beautifully directed Nine earlier this year.

Based on the Alice Walker novel and the Steven Spielberg movie, The Color Purple will be the fourth musical of the season.  Running from May 12 to 22, it will be directed by Crystal Mercer.

After it premiered in Atlanta in 2004, it made it to Broadway the following year.  The show has a book by Pulitzer winner Marsha Norman. The songs are by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.  The show was nominated for 11 Tonys and won one.

The 1980s hair bands will be honored by the 5th show as Rock of Ages takes the stage. Directed by Justin A. Pike, it will run from July 14 to 24. With a book by Chris D’Arienzo, the musical features songs from Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Europe.

Rock of Ages first played Off Broadway before transferring to Broadway.  It closed in January 2015 after playing more than 2300 performances on Broadway.

The final musical of the 2015-2016 season is James and the Giant Peach. Based on the Roald Dahl book, this musical features a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.  The pair were nominated for a Tony for their score of the musical version of A Christmas Story.

This show will run from August 11 to 21.  It will be directed by Mark Burbank.  He is also directing Dogfight which features a score by Pasek and Paul.

(This is not connected to the production offered by the Arkansas Arts Center a few seasons back.)

A Year Long Party for Arkansas Rep 40th Season

The 2015-2016 season is the 40th one for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. The audience gets the gifts.

The season kicks off with William Shakespeare’s Scottish play about the Thane of Cawdor and his wife Lady M. It will run September 11-27.

Next up is the Tony winning musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. This tuneful, witty musical with book by Rachek Sheinkin and songs by William Finn, will play from October 16 to November 8.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid will be the holiday show running from December 4 to January 3.  It will be a regional premiere of this musical featuring a book by Pulitzer and Tony winner Doug Wright and a score by the Oscar winning team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, with additional lyrics by Glenn Slater.

2016 will start off with another regional premiere–Peter and the Starcatcher.  This prequel to the Peter Pan stories is by Rick Elice. Though a play, it does have some songs by Wayne Barker and Elice.  This winner of  five Tony Awards will be on stage from January 15 to February 7.

The regional theatre premiere of The Bridges of Madison County will take place on the Arkansas Rep stage from April 8 to May 1.  This musical has a Tony winning score by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Pulitzer and Tony winner Marsha Norman.

The main stage season will conclude with a world premiere play Windfall.  Directed by Tony winner Jason Alexander, this comedy by Scooter Pietsch looks at greed among a group of office workers.  It will run from June 10 to 26.

The Rep also has three special offerings during the 2015-2016 year.

From February 11-14, Rebecca Wells, author of the “Ya-Ya Sisterhood” novels will present a one-woman show about the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

The Summer Musical Theatre Intensive production will be called Broken Wings and will play from March 1-12 of 2016.

From May 3-15 the Second City will return to Little Rock for Second City: Hooking Up. 

The Rep’s 40th season features comedy, tragedy and musicals spanning from Elizabethan times to world premieres.  It truly is a showcase of the Rep’s mission and the breadth and depth of the Rep’s commitment to bringing great stories to life for Little Rock audiences.