Pulitzers Play Little Rock: CTLR’s production of RENT

CTLR RentJonathan Larson’s through-sung updated La Boheme was an instant success from its first Off Broadway preview.  Unfortunately with his death that day, Larson never enjoyed the success.  After a long Broadway run, the rights were made available for other productions.

Though not the first to present Rent in Little Rock, the Community Theatre of Little Rock closed out its 58th season in 2014 with a production of this winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

The cast included Michael Goodbar, Ryan Whitfield, Charles Holloway, Jeremiah Herman, Angel Monroe, Brittany Sparkles, Kelsey Padilla, Jess Carson, David Weatherly, Courtney Williams, Douglas Hammon, Elijah Ash, Manny Urban, Brian Christopher Roberson, Robert Warner, Claudia Moskova-Cremeens, Ashley McPhearson, Vivian Murray-Colyer, Nichole Henry, Allison Bode, Courtney Speyer, Makayla Ealy, and Beth Ross.

The production was directed by Frank O. Butler.  Matthew Tatus was the Music Director, while the producers were Liz Clark and Jerry Woods.

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.

This Weekend only – Pagans on Bobsleds XXV! as only Red Octopus can bring it!

Red Octopus Theater presents Pagans on Bobsleds is XXV! A holiday tradition for many, Red Octopus theater is proud to present Pagans on Bobsleds XXV!

Pagans on Bobsleds XXV! will be performed December 8, 9, 10, 2016 at The PUBLIC Theater, 616 Center St., in downtown Little Rock. Shows will start at 8PM and doors will open at 7:30PM. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens, students & active military and veterans. No reservations are necessary and there will be refreshments available. The show is recommended for mature audiences, child tickets are $496.  (If you tell them Jason Willey sent you, you might get a kid in for a discounted price of $377.)

Pagans on Bobsleds started twenty-five years ago by a bunch of a actors, writers, artists and plain weirdos looking to do something that wasn’t happening in the local arts scene. Since then, this yearly cacophony of holiday themed sketch comedy has become a tradition not only for the members of Red Octopus, but for many of their fans. Through the years, the Pagans On Bobsleds cast has included over 100 different actors, writers, musicians and artists.

The show started long before any of the current cast was in Red Octopus and before a few of them were born. With timeless favorites like Santa-man, Fruitcake, Frosty, the Choirs and the Pagans on Bobsleds song, this show will also feature new material from The Old Lady, Hermes the Elf and a special tribute to Santa. So we invite everyone to come celebrate twenty-five years of Pagans on Bobsleds this holiday season!

The cast includes Alli Clark, Lesley Dancer, Josh Doering, Scott Dombroski, Drew Ellis, Sam Grubb, Jeremiah Herman, Anderson Penix, Evan Tanner, Jason Thompson and Jason Willey with special help from Michael Goodbar, Luke Rowlan and Christina Wang.

For more information please contact Red Octopus Theater at (501) 291-3896, or RedOctopusTheater@gmail.com. Red Octopus is also online at www.redoctopustheater.com. To contact The PUBLIC Theatre, call 374-PLAY.

Go to the WOODS

TST ITWSince the rights became available in the early 1990s, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods has been popular for theatres of all levels from youth to professional regional theatres. It is, on the surface, a show that is easy to do adequately allowing for singers and actors of varying levels of expertise to perform. As such, I have seen numerous productions of this title (my interest stemming partly from being a cousin of the Brothers Grimm on whose work this musical is based).

The Studio Theatre’s production of Into the Woods is a reminder why it is worthwhile to go on the journey again. Whether you have seen outstanding or dreadful productions in the past or never seen the show before, this production of Into the Woods highlights the many charms of the property.

(It also reminded me that despite some judicious trims here and there, the first act is very long. So be forewarned and visit the restroom beforehand.)

Director Rafael Castanera has assembled a strong cast and then made sure they carry out his vision. Given the physical confines of the space, he has created a world in which the stage is always bustling with activity but never seems to be crowded. This is a very wordy script, but Castanera also trusts his cast with silence. Some of the most memorable moments (touching and comic) were achieved with no words. That is the hallmark of deft directing.

The show is truly an ensemble effort with uniformly solid performances. As the Baker around whom much of the action centers, Michael Goodbar gives a nice dramatic turn. Often seen in the outrageously comic Red Octopus Theatre productions, his layered performance here is a revelation. He has great chemistry with Angela Kay Collier as the Baker’s Wife. She is an even match for him in a performance that is both strong (but not strident) and vulnerable. Erin Martinez turns in yet another memorable characterization as the Witch. Her vocal prowess is on display in numbers ranging from rap (Sondheim did it here long before Hamilton) to tender song to power ballad.

Brandon Nichols brings an animalistic swagger to his performance as the Wolf. He is predatory and sensual without being obscene, which is especially important since the object of his lupine affection is an adolescent girl. In his other role, he is a hilariously vainglorious and charming Prince. With an arched eyebrow or shift in posture, he both echoes fairy tale princes and spoofs them.   His brother in arms in the narcissism department is Ryan Heumier as his brother the other Prince. Heumier can sing to another character all the while primping in front of his ever-present handheld mirror. The fraternal duet “Agony” is a highlight of the first act (and gleefully reprised in the second).

As the object of Nichols’ princely pursuit, Rachel Caffey brings a clear voice and clear eye to the role of Cinderella. She is equally at home among the ashes as she is running through the woods in a ballgown. Grace Pitts is a delightful Red Riding Hood alternating between assertive and susceptible, innocent and knowing. Often juvenile actors can be cloying (which may be why this part is usually played by someone older). But Pitts is never mawkish in her portrayal. Even as the character comes to grip with a new reality, Pitts’ performance lets the audience know she is still a young girl with enthusiasm and vulnerability.

Evan Patterson offers a dim-witted but well-intentioned Jack (of Beanstalk fame). The part is sometimes played doltishly. But Patterson’s portrayal focuses on the humanity of the character who happens to be more absent-minded than stupid. As his mother, reliable Beth Ross tempers her exasperation at her son with her devotion to him and her desire to provide for him. David Weatherly plays the narrator who fills in for Jack’s cow Milky White at times and also appears briefly as a eponymously named “Mysterious Man.” His talents for facial expressions and cud-chewing helped bring out much of the humor in the script.

Rounding out the cast in various roles were Courtney Speyer (whose dulcet tones were on display as she sang a sort of siren’s song), Amy G. Young (having fun as a not too weak Granny), Daniel Collier (as the officious and official steward), Katie Eisenhower, Brooke Melton and Autumn Romines. The latter three were the deliciously wicked step-relatives of Cinderella.

The cast was clad in intricately detailed costumes designed by Castanera. The clothing skillfully defined the characters and added whimsically to the story. Every square inch of fabric was there for a purpose. There were many accents and accessories, so each time an actor came on stage it was possible to discover something new. But the costumes served the actors and did not distract from the performances or the story. The clothing was abetted by Robert Pickens’ exquisite wigs.

Pickens is also the set coordinator. The set is a marvel. In a relatively small space there are a variety of platforms and ramps which depict many different settings. The set mainly consists wooden planks in groupings framing the proscenium. With this wood, a few ropes and some canvas, the story unfolds before the audience’s eyes. In a subtle reminder of the storybook nature of the evening, the stage is littered with hundreds of books stacked in any possible nook and cranny. The proceedings are well-lit by Joey DiPette who manages to make sure the actors are always seen while still conveying changes in settings and shifts from day to night.

While not a through-sung musical, Into the Woods has much, much music!. Even when the actors are not singing, the music rarely stops. Musical Director Bob Bidewell has made sure that the singers maximize their musical moments in the woods. He and the orchestra never play over the singers, but definitely enhance the mood and the overall musical experience by supporting the songs and the singers.

Like revisiting stories from childhood, it was pleasant to revisit Into the Woods, especially in a strong, cohesive production currently running at the Studio Theatre. Performances continue through March 26 (7pm Thursdays through Saturdays and 2pm on Sundays).

Go INTO THE WOODS this month at the Studio Theatre

Grace Pitts as Little Red Riding Hood - Photography by Grant Dillion for The Studio Theatre

Grace Pitts as Little Red Riding Hood – Photography by Grant Dillion for The Studio Theatre

Once upon a time, Pulitzer Prize winners Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine wrote a musical based upon the folk tales of the Brothers Grimm. Into the Woods ran for over 700 performances on Broadway and won 3 Tony Awards, spawned a Tony winning revival and a movie. Now the Studio Theatre brings it back to Little Rock.

Directed by Rafael Colon Castanera (who also designed the costumes), other members of the creative team are Jennifer Caffey (assistant director), Bob Bidewell (musical director), Robert Pickens (wig designer) and Carrie Henry (stage manager).

The cast includes Rachel Caffey, Angela Kay Collier, Daniel Collier, Katie Eisenhower, Michael Goodbar, Ryan Heumier, Erin Martinez, Brooke Melton, Brandon Nichols, Ethan Patterson, Grace Pitts, Autumn Romines, Beth Ross, Courtney Speyer, David Weatherly, and Amy G. Young

The production opens tonight and runs through March 26. Performances are at 7pm Thursdays through Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm.

Pagans on Bobsleds XXIV: One More Splash! pays tribute to late, great Sandy Baskin

ROT Pagans SandyPagans on Bobsleds XXIV: One More Splash! is newest installment in the long running holiday tradition for Red Octopus Theater. Pagans on Bobsleds XXIV: One More Splash! will run December 10-12, 2015 at The PUBLIC Theatre, located at 616 Center Street, in downtown Little Rock, AR.  Doors will open at 7:30PM and the show will start at 8:00PM. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens, military and students.  Tickets are general admission, no reservations and there will be refreshments available.  The show is recommended for mature audiences, child tickets are $490.

Pagans on Bobsleds XXIV: One More Splash! a memorial to Sandy Baskin, long time head writer and director of Red Octopus Theater, who passed away earlier this year.  There is no adequate way to measure the influence Sandy Baskin had on the central Arkansas performing arts community and countless actors in her 3 decades of performing, writing and directing.  Sandy Baskin performed with Red Octopus theater for over 20 years and for much of that time was the head writer and director of countless live sketch comedy shows, short films and other performances.  Ms. Baskin may have left this plane of existence, but she will always be the head redhead in Red Octopus.

This year, Pagans on Bobsleds, the long running Red Octopu holiday tradition, will be a greatest hits of Sandy’s  favorites including Fauzio’s, The Nutcracker Suite, Elves What Woo, The Old Lady, They’re Having Eggnog, Devil Hound, Santaman, Fruitcake and many more. Unfortunately, due to her passing, Sandy really left the other Octopi in a lurch for a funny lady with a red bouffant that can cuss like a sailor.  That role is in a lot of these sketches, but  Red Octopus thought, the only thing to do without Sandy Baskin, was to make everyone try to fill her comedy shoes.  It will take a cast of 12 including Frank Butler, Alli Clark, Brian Chambers, Sarah Cunningham, Lesley Dancer, Michael Goodbar, Jeremiah Herman, Nichole Henry, Anderson Penix, Luke Rowlan, Brittany Sparkles, Evan Tanner, Jason Thompson and Jason Willey

Current Executive Director of Red Octopus, Jason Willey said, “Sandy loved hanging out with her people and often she’d say she was just going to have “one more splash” before we called it a night. That usually turned into another hour and a lot of laughs. Everyone in Red Octopus will miss having one more splash with Baskin.  We thought, that’s what this show should be for Red Octopus and our fans, one last splash, for Baskin.”

Red Octopus Theater looks forward to seeing all our friends and fans for Pagans on Bobsleds XXIV: One More Splash, a tribute to the one and only Sandy Baskin.

For more information please contact Jason Willey, Executive Director, Red Octopus Theater at (501) 291-3896, or RedOctopusTheater@gmail.com. Red Octopus is also online atwww.redoctopustheater.com.

To contact The PUBLIC Theatre, call 374-PLAY.

 

Red Octopus is doing the “Electrick Boo-galoo”

ROT Halloween2015

Photo by Sarena Kaye (LtoR) Scott Dombrowski, Jason Willey, Sara Cunningham, Michael Goodbar, Alli Clark and Anderson Penix pose as characters from the upcoming Red Octopus Theater Halloween show “Electrick Boo-galoo!”

Electrick Boo-galoo!, the new original sketch comedy show by Red Octopus Theater, runs through October 24, 2015, at The PUBLIC Theatre, located at 616 Center Street, in downtown Little Rock.  Doors will open at 7:30PM and the show will start at 8:00PM.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens, military, students and anyone in costume.  No reservations or online ticketing and there will be refreshments available.  The show is recommended for mature audiences, child tickets are $876.

Red Octopus Theater is one of the oldest and scariest sketch comedy troupes in the nation having continuously performed since 1991.  This year’s Halloween show promises to be one of their battiest original shows ever.

Creepy comedy will commence with a fireside chat with the president in “The State of Breakfast”.  Things will get weird in the “The Witchiest Witch Doctor” and even weirder in the new game show, “Find Me A Cult.”  But don’t worry, if you aren’t freaked out by that, you will be by “Pumpkin Spice Apocalypse” and “The Camp Fire Gories”  There will also be some serious political insights in “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Rose.” A special old lady will be making an appearance, along with a few other crowd favorites that it just wouldn’t be Halloween without.

The cast includes Alli Clark, Sarah Cunningham, Scott Dombroski, Michael Goodbar, Sam Grubb, Nichole Henry, Anderson Penix and Jason Willey with special guest, Luke “Ramthor” Rowlan. Performances are open to all ages, but recommended for mature audiences because of adult language and situations, again, child tickets are $867.

Red Octopus will begin working on their annual holiday show, Pagans on Bobsleds XXIV, almost immediately following Electrick Boo-galoo! and it will run December 9-12, 2015.

For more information please contact Red Octopus Theater at (501) 291-3896, or RedOctopusTheater@gmail.com. Red Octopus is also online at www.redoctopustheater.com.

Have a Blast with Summer Oven presented by Red Octopus Theater

Members of the cast rehearse “Free Yoga” a sketch for Red Octopus Theater’s upcoming Summer Oven sketch comedy show.

Members of the cast rehearse “Free Yoga” a sketch for Red Octopus Theater’s upcoming Summer Oven sketch comedy show.

Summer Oven, the new original sketch comedy show by Red Octopus Theater, will run August 14, 15, 20, 21, 22 at The PUBLIC Theater, located at 616 Center Street, in downtown Little Rock, AR.  Doors will open at 7:30PM and the show will start at 8:00PM.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens, military and students and are available before the show. There are no online ticket sales or reservations. There will be refreshments available.  The show is recommended for mature audiences and child tickets are $567, plus a lock of hair.

August in Arkansas makes you want to kiss the person that invented air conditioning and drink your own weight in sweet tea.  Naturally, Summer Oven is about Arkansas’s oppressive summer heat and all the crazy it brings out in us.

Several new sketches planned for the stage include “Mr. Science”, the story of a local kids science show host who has reached his breaking point with baking soda volcanoes.  “An Apology for Hulk Hogan” where a wrestling fan tries to apologize to everyone Hulk Hogan has insulted.  “Free Yoga,” the sign says free, but what about your soul?  Also “Humid Hair, the newest beauty trend and “The Sweat Report”, Arkansas’s newest web weather forecast.

“We don’t want to remind you it’s hot, we want to make you laugh while you sweat,” said Jason Willey, Red Octopus Executive Producer.

The cast includes Sandy Baskin, Brian Chambers, Lesley Dancer, Drew Ellis, Michael Goodbar, Sam Grubb, Jeremiah Herman, Evan Tanner, and David Weatherly. Performances are open to all ages, but recommended for mature audiences because of adult language and situations, again, child tickets are $567 and a lock of hair.

Red Octopus Theater has been performing original, live sketch comedy in central Arkansas since 1991.

For more information please contact Red Octopus Theater at (501) 291-3896, or RedOctopusTheater@gmail.com. Red Octopus is also online at www.redoctopustheater.com.