Pulitzers play Little Rock – SOUTH PACIFIC at Murry’s Dinner Playhouse in 1981

MDP SoPaIn the summer of 1981, the touring production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was causing controversy by bleeping out “whore” in its radio ads in the Little Rock market.  At the same time, a formerly controversial musical was settling in for a seven week run in the Arkansas capital city at Murry’s Dinner Playhouse.

When Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had originally collaborated with Joshua Logan on South Pacific, the team attracted some complaints for the preachiness of the story as it tackled racism.  It was the look at these social issues which probably prompted the Pulitzer committee to make South Pacific only the second musical to win the prize.  (It was also the first Drama Pulitzer recipient to be based on another Pulitzer recipient – in this case James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific.)

With a leading character from Little Rock, South Pacific was caught up in anti-Arkansas backlash during and after the Central High integration crisis.  A production on Long Island received boos when the character of Nellie announced she was from Little Rock.  The original national tour had a hard time booking spots in the south due to the themes.  Shifts in attitudes about race and miscegenation had rendered South Pacific a period piece by 1981 – and a non-threatening summer fare for Murry’s.

Directed by Jack Payne, the cast included Mary Winston Smith, Greg Carter, Bruce Rainey, Leslie Hall (now Basham), Dianne Tack, Chip Huddleston, and Beth Buffalo.

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.


Remembering 14 Cultural Figures from 2014

Little Rock lost several cultural luminaries in 2014. Some were practitioners, others were volunteers and donors.  All were passionate about the role the arts and culture play in not only everyday lives, but in making a city great.

While there are doubtless omissions to this list, these 14 are representative of the loss in 2014 but also the rich cultural legacy of the Little Rock area. They are presented in alphabetical order.

1414mayaThough never a Little Rock resident, Maya Angelou is linked to the City’s cultural life. Throughout her career, she would make appearances in Little Rock at a variety of venues. As an actress, dancer, poet and professor, she lived life to the fullest and encouraged others to do likewise.

1414jeffbJeff Baskin was more than a librarian in North Little Rock. He was a religious scholar, an actor, and an appreciator of many art forms. He was a regular fixture at cultural events on both sides of the Arkansas River. With his sly smile and quick wit, he put others at ease. His charm was disarming and his circle of friends was boundless.

1414BowenAttorney, banker, historian, author, Dean, advisor, raconteur. This was Bill Bowen. And so much more.  He helped build Little Rock and Arkansas into modern entities. As such, he realized the value of arts and culture to the big picture.  He was not only generous with money, he was generous with wise advice.

1414tcT.C. Edwards was far more than the lead singer of TC and The Eddies, TC and The Ponies and The Piranhas. One of the most familiar faces in the Little Rock music scene over the last 25 years, he was an icon. Much more could be said about him, but he’d prefer the music just keep playing.

1414lawrenceBroadway star Lawrence Hamilton. After conquering the Great White Way, he conquered the Rock. Whether with the Philander Smith College Choir, the Arkansas Rep, Arkansas Symphony, surprising Governor Beebe, or at an event, Lawrence was a consummate performer and warm and welcoming individual.

1414anneAnne Hickman was ever-present at the Arkansas Arts Center. For over forty years she gave time and money to make sure this museum could fulfill its mission. Her generous smile and ebullience were also part and parcel of many Arts Center events. In recognition of her dedication, she received the Arts Center’s Winthrop Rockefeller Award in 2008.

1414geraldGerald Johnson was a tenor saxophone player and Little Rock music scene mainstay. Whether headlining a concert or as a side man in a recording session, he brought the same level of cool excellence to his playing. He also mentored younger musicians and worked to instill love of music in many generations.

1414warrenWarren Law lit up Little Rock. For nearly three decades he was lighting designer and a teacher at UALR.  He designed the lighting for many Ballet Arkansas, Murry’s Dinner Playhouse and Arkansas Arts Center productions as well. At the time of his death, he was the lighting designer for Robinson Auditorium and the Little Rock School District.

1414barbaraBarbara Patty was a force of nature, especially when it came to support of music and art. As a singer, master gardener at museums, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra volunteer and board member, Arts Center docent, Aesthetic Club president, and general lover of the arts, she not only enjoyed the arts, she was a mentor and encourager of arts patrons and practitioners.

1414pennickBanker Edward M. Penick served on the Arkansas Arts Center Board of Trustees.  As a longtime leader at Worthen Bank, he was instrumental in helping establish many nascent cultural institutions such as the Arts Center, Arkansas Symphony and Arkansas Rep as they were getting established in the 1960s and 1970s.

1414TTheresa Quick, or “T,” was a founding member of the Arkansas Rep. She spent over three decades on stage as an actress. She also was a teacher and mentor.  In addition to usually stealing the show when she appeared at the Rep, she shone at Murry’s, the Arts Center and countless radio commercials.

1414kayKay Terry Spencer enjoyed being on stage, but also enjoyed volunteering to make sure others had the opportunities to shine in their artistic talents. After moving to Little Rock, she spent countless hours as a volunteer at the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and with the Fine Arts Club.

1414billTBill Trice. That name is synonymous with the arts in Little Rock. He was an actor, director, dancer, singer, teacher, student and mentor. From small blackboxes to large halls, bars to churches, his smile and talents left their mark. He was an expert attorney too. And a lover of music (all types), politics (Democratic), and his exceptionally talented family.

1414pollyCaroline “Polly” Murphy Keller Winter embraced the arts as she embraced all aspects of life – fully and without reservation. She served as board chair for the Arkansas Symphony and established the ASO endowment, which continues to grow.  She was an active supporter of the arts in Little Rock, south Arkansas and other states.