31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 2017’s SISTER ACT

Based on the 1990s film of the same name, Sister Act marked Cliff Fannin Baker’s final directing assignment at Arkansas Rep.

No one knew it at the time, which is just as well. It was a joyous uplifting experience which was what Cliff would have wanted people to have for his final Rep show.

The show was selected by Bob Hupp to be part of the transition season after his departure. Baker had previously indicated interest in directing the show if Hupp ever programmed it for the Rep.

So from January 24, 2017 through March 5, 2017, Baker’s production filled the Rep.  It had originally been set to end on February 26 but was extended a week.

The cast was led by Soara-Joye Ross with Tracy Bidleman, Erica Lutstig, Susan J. Jacks, Jennie Boone, Patrick Clanton, Monte J. Howell, Cornelius Davis, Ton Castellanos, and Darryl Winslow. Little Rock favorites in the cast included Vivian Norman, Kathryn Pryor, Jay Clark, Monica Robinson, Kelley Ponder, Erin Martinez Warner, Zachary Meyers, and Taylor Quick. KATV’s Alyson Courtney made a cameo as a 1970s TV reporter.

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.)

Les Miserables Continues at Ark Rep

replesmizTwenty-seven years ago today, on March 12, 1987, Les Miserables opened on Broadway.  The production won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. It eventually ran for 6,680 performances.  After being revived on Broadway in 2006 and spawning an Oscar winning movie in 2012, another Broadway revival is currently in New York.

Arkansas residents do not have to travel to New York (or Netflix) to see Les Miserables.  The Arkansas Repertory Theatre has brought the production back to life on its Little Rock stage.  Following an acclaimed 2008 production, Rep Producing Artistic Director Robert Hupp has again directed the show for Arkansas audiences.  It opened last Friday night and runs through April 6.

Douglas Webster and Christopher Carl return to their roles of protagonist and antagonist as Jean Valjean and Javert, respectively.  Joining them are Christopher Behmke as the romantic revolutionary Marius, Matthew Hugg as pint-sized revolutionary Gavroche, Karenssa LeGear as Valjean’s adoptive daughter Cosette, Mary Little as the waif Eponine, Caleb Reese as revolutionary leader Enjolras, Danielle Erin Rhodes as the doomed Fantine, Sydni Whitfield as Young Cosette, and Michael Sample & Terey Summers and the scheming Thenardiers. Others in the cast are Kelsie Adkisson, Alex Bush, Price Clark, Monica Clark-Robinson, Darren Drone, Hannah Eakin, Marisa Kirby, Bailey Lamb, Greg Robinson, Makayla Shope, Alyssa Sowers, Benjamin Stidam, Billy Clark Taylor and Paul Thiemann.

In addition to Hupp as director, the creative team includes choreography by Robert Kolby Harper and music direction by Mark Binns. The design team features Mike Nichols (scenery), Rafael Colon Castanera (costumes), Yael Lubetzky (lighting), Allan Branson (sound), Lynda J. Kwallek (props) and Rob Pickens (wigs).

Performances are Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm.  During the run, there are Tuesday performances at 7pm on March 18 and April 1.