A Sparklejollytwinklejingley Show!

THEREP_ELF (no credits)-page-001The holidays are here. And if you need to get into the Christmas spirit, I suggest you buy, beg or bargain to get a ticket to see Buddy the Elf and his friends in the musical Elf which is playing at the Arkansas Rep through January 4.

This frothy, fun, friendly show has but one aim – to entertain.  And how it does succeed.

With a smart, witty, heart-filled book by Tony winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone, TV’s “Slings & Arrows”), the story works on several different levels. (Incidentally, Meehan takes a swipe at his other Christmas-NYC set musical Annie with a joke, while Martin seems to be aping The Drowsy Chaperone by having the story open with a man in a chair). The score by Tony nominees Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar (The Wedding Singer) ranges from toe-tapping to heartstring-pulling.

Elf is, of course, based upon the eponymously named film.  Disclaimer – I’ve not seen the movie.  I do not get Will Ferrell’s appeal, so steer clear of most movies starring him.  But love of the movie is not necessary to enjoy the stage musical. The book, score, cast and production values take the audience on a wild sleigh ride of holiday fun regardless of familiarity with the source material.

As Buddy the Elf, Ethan Paulini is a chief reason for the show’s appeal. He is rarely off stage, and somehow manages to keep a high level of energy throughout. His ebullient Buddy is both naïve and knowing. Whether singing, dancing or acting, he never overplays the part or goes for cheap laughs.  Through his performance, one believes that he really does charm his way into everyone’s hearts regardless of their age or gender.

As the object of Buddy’s affection, it is a joy to watch Alyssa Gorgone’s Jovie transform from guarded to glowing.  She deftly handled her songs and dances.  Gorgone and Paulini have a nice chemistry together as the court each other.

David Hess moves from blustery to boasting in his portrayal of Buddy’s dad.  Anna Lise Jensen is a delight as his long-suffering wife whose struggle to find her own place mirror’s Buddy’s quest.  As Buddy’s younger half-brother Price Clark is a joy to watch. He is neither precocious nor cloying. Instead, he is a believable kid who is concerned about his parents and is thrilled to have a new brother.

Tessa Faye stops the show as Deb the secretary as she comically aids Buddy and leads the office in a rousing production number. Kyron Turner and Tanner Wilson make the most of their scenes as harried employees hoping for a holiday miracle. J. B. Adams bookends the show as an avuncular, folksy Santa Claus.

From beleaguered New Yorkers to bored Macy’s elves to depressed Santas, the ensemble fill the stage with delightful characters. Hannah Eakin, Allison Stearns, Jason Samuel, Jimmy Kieffer, Anthony Bryant, Chris McNiff, Jack Doyle, Samantha Harrington, Tatiana H. Green, Marisa Kirby, Eric Mann, Kennedy Sample and Mary Katelin Ward have enough vigor, vim and verve to make the cast seem much larger than it actually is.

The elves are played by the younger members of the cast. These kids are having fun – and why not? They get to spend the show in two of the most magical settings imaginable: The North Pole and New York City at Christmas.  They very ably perform their production numbers and create memorable characters without stealing focus from Buddy and Santa.  Addison Dowdy, Gunner Gardner, Reagan Hodson, Anna Beth Jeane, Ethan Marbaise, Max McCurdy, Danny Phillips, Grace Pitts, Corbin Pitts, Niall Prochazka, Marisol Sela, and Madison Stolzer were welcome additions to the production.  Most of these performers are seasoned veterans of the Rep’s Summer Musical Theatre Intensive. They show that their talent works in the wintertime too.

Nicole Capri directed Elf with a light, comic touch. She neither glosses over nor smothers the audience with the heart in the show, she trusted her performers and the story to bring it out.  She keeps the show moving at a brisk pace while allowing for enough quiet moments that it does not seem frantic.  Marisa Kirby’s creative, crowd-pleasing choreography put the actors through their paces.  Together Capri and Kirby fashioned production numbers which allowed each performer to stand out as an individual character while still part of a seamless ensemble.

Elf’s magical world was ably served by Shelly Hall’s colorful costumes, Dan Kimble’s lighting, Allan Branson’s sound and Lynda J. Kwallek’s props.  One of the joys of the show is undoubtedly the songs. Credit for that goes largely to Mark Binns, the show’s musical director.  He leads the orchestra as they play the peppy, tuneful score. He also deserves credit for helping the actors maximize their sounds as they perform the songs while executing Kirby’s inventive choreography.

Though based on a 2000s movie, Elf is really a throwback to 1950s and 1960s workplace musicals. There are the buffoonly bullying boss, the comic-relief secretary, the dancing office boys and office girls, the disconnected wife and kids, and, of course, the outsider hero who saves the day and wins the heart of the leading lady. The show also offers dancing Santas, prancing elves, and a travelogue’s worth of New York City settings.

Elf doesn’t ask the audience to think too hard or to get wrapped up in cloying sentimentality. It merely wants to entertain as it allows the audience an escape from daily strife.

No matter your holiday of choice at this time of the year, the Rep is giving audiences a present with Elf!

ELF takes stage at Arkansas Rep through January 4

THEREP_ELF (no credits)-page-001The Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of the holiday musical Elf opens tonight for a run through January 4.

Adapted by Thomas Meehan (The Producers) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) from the popular 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, with a score by Tony®-nominated songwriting team of Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), Elf turns one of Hollywood’s most beloved holiday hits into a hilarious and heartwarming musical that towers above the rest.

When a young orphan who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts is raised in the North Pole, unaware that he is actually a human, his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities eventually cause him to face the truth. As he embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father and discover his true identity, Buddy strives to win over his new family and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.

The cast is led by Rep veteran Ethan Paulini as Buddy.  Others in the cast include J. B. Adams, Price Clark, Jack Doyle, Tessa Faye, Alyssa Gorgone, David Hess, Anna Lise Jensen, Jason Samuel, Anthony D. Bryant, Hannah Eakin, Samantha L. Harrington, Jimmy Kieffer, Marisa Kirby, Eric Mann, Chris McNiff, Allison Stearns, Kyron Turner, Tanner Ray Wilson, Tatiana H. Green, Kennedy Sample and Mary Katelin Ward.  The elves are played by Addison Rae Dowdy, Gunner Gardner, Reagan Hodson, Anna Beth Jeane, Ethan Marbaise, Max McCurdy, Danny Phillips, Corbin Pitts, Grace Pitts, Niall Prochazka, Marisol Sela and Madison Stolzer.

The creative team includes director Nicole Capri, music director Mark Binns, choreographer Marisa Kirby, costume designer Shelly Hall, sound designer Allan Branson, prop designer Lynda J. Kwallek and lighting designer Dan Kimble.

Don’t WAIT UNTIL the show is DARK – Final two performances of thriller at Arkansas Rep

THEREP_WAITUNTILDARK (no credits)-page-001Frederick Knott’s Tony-nominated thriller Wait Until Dark plays its final two performances today on the stage of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

This masterfully constructed tale of suspense will keep Rep audiences on the edge of their seat (but you still have to pay for the entire seat).

A sinister con man and two ex-convicts are about to meet their match. They have traced the location of a mysterious doll to the Greenwich Village apartment of Sam Hendrix and his wife, Susy. With murder afoot, a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, as Susy discovers the only way to play fair is to play by her rules.

The cast is composed entirely of Rep veterans. It includes Amy Hutchins (It’s a Wonderful Life), Nate Washburn (Henry V), Michael Stewart Allen (Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, Romeo & Juliet), Robert Ierardi (Clybourne Park), Craig Maravich (Death of a Salesman), Michael Lowe (Les Miserables, Hairspray), David Tennal (Clybourne Park, Les Miserables), Reagan Hodson (Because of Winn Dixie), and Ella Moody (White Christmas).

The production is directed by Robert Hupp. Others on the production team include Mike Nichols (set), Marianne Custer (costumes), Yael Lubetzky (lighting), Allan Branson (sound), Lynda J. Kwallek (props), and D. C. Wright (fight choreography).

Show times are 2pm and 7pm.

No Longer a Wait – WAIT UNTIL DARK opens tonight at Arkansas Rep

THEREP_WAITUNTILDARK (no credits)-page-001Frederick Knott’s Tony-nominated thriller Wait Until Dark opens tonight on the stage of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

This masterfully constructed tale of suspense will keep Rep audiences on the edge of their seat (but you still have to pay for the entire seat).

A sinister con man and two ex-convicts are about to meet their match. They have traced the location of a mysterious doll to the Greenwich Village apartment of Sam Hendrix and his wife, Susy. With murder afoot, a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, as Susy discovers the only way to play fair is to play by her rules.

The cast is composed entirely of Rep veterans. It includes Amy Hutchins (It’s a Wonderful Life), Nate Washburn (Henry V), Michael Stewart Allen (Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, Romeo & Juliet), Robert Ierardi (Clybourne Park), Craig Maravich (Death of a Salesman), Michael Lowe (Les Miserables, Hairspray), David Tennal (Clybourne Park, Les Miserables), Reagan Hodson (Because of Winn Dixie), and Ella Moody (White Christmas).

The production is directed by Robert Hupp. Others on the production team include Mike Nichols (set), Marianne Custer (costumes), Yael Lubetzky (lighting), Allan Branson (sound), Lynda J. Kwallek (props), and D. C. Wright (fight choreography).

The show runs through November 9th.  Show times are 7pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Sundays, 8pm on Friday and Saturday and 2pm on Sunday matinees.

 

WINN DIXIE extended at Ark Rep through January 5 — Good seats still available

Due to overwhelming demand for tickets, the Arkansas Rep has extended Because of Winn Dixie another week.  This last week has good seats available, so don’t delay.  From the lyricist of Legally Blonde and the composer of Spring Awakening comes a new musical based on the award-winning novel by Kate DiCamillo.

A World Premiere musical brings a Tony Award-winning creative team to Little Rock this holiday season. Because of Winn Dixie is a new musical based on the heartwarming and award-winning novel by Kate DiCamillo about a young girl and a dog she finds at a Winn Dixie supermarket.

This unique production will include music by Duncan Sheik (Tony and Grammy Award Winner for Spring Awakening), lyrics and book by Nell Benjamin (Tony Nominee for Legally Blonde), direction by John Tartaglia (Tony nominee for Avenue Q) and animal direction by Bill Berloni (a 2011 Tony Honor recipient).

This original production will also be the first pre-Broadway musical starring a live dog in a leading role. Taran (and understudy Cally), both Irish Wolfhounds, have been cast in the title role of “Winn-Dixie,” trained by Broadway’s foremost animal trainer, Bill Berloni.

“It has always amazed me the reaction animals have on an audience,” says Berloni, “When a dog or cat comes onstage, our collective reality is ‘Wait a minute, you can’t get an animal to act, what is it going to do?’ And it brings the audience closer into the piece.”

“This story will melt your heart,” says Bob Hupp. “We are honored that the creative team of Winn Dixie approached us for this world premiere, and I think this project has tremendous potential to introduce a significant new work into the American musical theatre canon, and it all begins right here on our stage, for Arkansas audiences.”

The cast is led by Jonathan Rayson, Julia Nightingale Landfair, Gabe Bowling, Riley Costello, Aisha de Haas, Imari Hardon, Crystal Kellogg, Tari Kelly, Shannon Lamb, Nic Rowe, Douglas Storm and Sydni Whitfield.  Others in the cast include Danny Phillips, Cayla Christina Christian, Reagan Hodson, Dalton Johnson, Molly Russ, and Sam Shaughnessy.

The music director is Jason Hart. Duncan Sheik is the orchestrator and vocal arranger.  The creative team included Mike Nichols (scenery), Marianne Custer (costumes), Michael J. Eddy (lighting), Allan Branson (sound), and Lynda J. Kwallek (props).

Ark Rep presents World Premiere of BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE

From the lyricist of Legally Blonde and the composer of Spring Awakening comes a new musical based on the award-winning novel by Kate DiCamillo.

A World Premiere musical brings a Tony Award-winning creative team to Little Rock this holiday season. Because of Winn Dixie is a new musical based on the heartwarming and award-winning novel by Kate DiCamillo about a young girl and a dog she finds at a Winn Dixie supermarket.

Berloni and Tartaglia with two of the dogs

This unique production will include music by Duncan Sheik (Tony and Grammy Award Winner for Spring Awakening), lyrics and book by Nell Benjamin (Tony Nominee for Legally Blonde), direction by John Tartaglia (Tony nominee for Avenue Q) and animal direction by Bill Berloni (a 2011 Tony Honor recipient).

This original production will also be the first pre-Broadway musical starring a live dog in a leading role. Taran (and understudy Cally), both Irish Wolfhounds, have been cast in the title role of “Winn-Dixie,” trained by Broadway’s foremost animal trainer, Bill Berloni.

“It has always amazed me the reaction animals have on an audience,” says Berloni, “When a dog or cat comes onstage, our collective reality is ‘Wait a minute, you can’t get an animal to act, what is it going to do?’ And it brings the audience closer into the piece.”

“This story will melt your heart,” says Bob Hupp. “We are honored that the creative team of Winn Dixie approached us for this world premiere, and I think this project has tremendous potential to introduce a significant new work into the American musical theatre canon, and it all begins right here on our stage, for Arkansas audiences.”

The cast is led by Jonathan Rayson, Julia Nightingale Landfair, Gabe Bowling, Riley Costello, Aisha de Haas, Imari Hardon, Crystal Kellogg, Tari Kelly, Shannon Lamb, Nic Rowe, Douglas Storm and Sydni Whitfield.  Others in the cast include Danny Phillips, Cayla Christina Christian, Reagan Hodson, Dalton Johnson, Molly Russ, and Sam Shaughessy.

The music director is Jason Hart. Duncan Sheik is the orchestrator and vocal arranger.  The creative team included Mike Nichols (scenery), Marianne Custer (costumes), Michael J. Eddy (lighting), Allan Branson (sound), and Lynda J. Kwallek (props).