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, Erica Martinez Warner, Zachary Meyers, and Taylor Quick. KATV’s Alyson Courtney made a cameo as a 1970s TV reporter.

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31 Days of Arkansas Rep: LES MISERABLES in 2008

The 33rd season of Arkansas Rep opened with its most expensive and expansive production to date – the Tony winning LES MISERABLES.

Rep Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp helmed the production.  With a cast of 29 actors, most of whom played multiple parts, there were over 500 costume pieces, designed by Rafael Colon Castanera. The expansive musical was properly fitted into the Rep’s intimate space due to the scenic design of Robert Kovach.

Douglas Webster and Christopher Carl led the cast as Valjean and Javert, respectively. Maria Couch, Chris Newell, Jeanine Pacheco, Evan Shyer, Nina Sturtz, Mike Accardo and Catherine Smitko played other principal roles.

The cast also included Shelby Kirby, Julia Landfair, Molly Russ, Gracie Stover, Kelsie Adkisson, Michael Bartholmey, Conly Basham, Dustin Beam, Susan Belcher, Luke Bridges, Hannah Bruce, Andrew Buck, Kyle Huey, Mark Ludden, Jeremy Matthey, Laura Medford, Rick Qualls, Matthew Tatus, Pittman Ware and Tyler Whiteside.

Others on the creative team were M. Jason Pruzin (sound), Michael Eddy (lighting), Lynda J. Kwallek (props), Robert Harper (choreography), and D. C. Wright (fight choreography).

The production ran from September 12 through October 12 of 2008.  In March 2014, Webster and Carl returned to the show at Arkansas Rep, again directed by Hupp.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: PROOF by LR Hall Alum David Auburn

Fourteen years after graduating from Little Rock Hall High School, David Auburn received the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for his play Proof.  In September 2002, Arkansas Repertory Theatre produced Proof while the original Broadway run was in its final months.

The production at Arkansas Rep was directed by Producing Artistic Director Robert Hupp.  The cast featured Amy Tribbey, Scott Barrow, Jessica Henson and Curt Karibalis.  (Barrow met his future wife, the former Amy Sabin, while in Little Rock during the run of this show.)

The set, a very realistic craftsman house back porch, was designed by Mike Nichols.  On opening night he was lauded because the production marked his 20th anniversary with the Rep. (In 2018, Nichols is still serving as Technical Director and Resident Scenic Designer for the Rep.)

Auburn was unable to come to Little Rock to see the production. His wife was set to give birth to a child during the run of the show.

When Auburn was growing up in Little Rock, he and his brother were active with the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre which is across MacArthur Park from where the Rep was at the time.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: GYPSY in 2003

In June 2003, the Arkansas Rep went back to the dying days of vaudeville when it presented Gypsy.  Written by Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim, this musical fable looks at the end of vaudeville and the rise of Gypsy Rose Lee.  It was directed by Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker.

Baker said he had long wanted to do the show, but credited Bob Hupp (his successor as the Rep’s Producing Artistic Director) with figuring out a way to make it happen.

Mary Robin Roth took on the role of Mama Rose. She had previously played Miss Hannigan in Annie at the Rep.  Broadway vets Trista Moldovan and Joyce Chittick played Rose’s daughters Louise and June. In real life those grew up to be Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc.  Others in the cast of approximately 30 included John Kudan, Nicholas Dromard, and Steve Wilkerson.

The creative team included Mike Nichols (scenery), Margaret A. McKowen (costumes), David Neville (lighting) and M. Jason Pruzin (sound). Ron Hutchins choreographed, and Eric Alsford was the musical director.

Even before opening night, the production was extended a week and ended on July 6 instead of June 29.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: ANYTHING GOES in 2001

The Arkansas Rep concluded its 25th season with the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes. Directed by Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker, it featured an onstage orchestra led by then-Arkansas Symphony maestro David Itkin.  (Rep Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp and Itkin had been trying for a while to find a project for collaboration.)

This shipboard romantic farce featured a book by Guy Bolton & P. G. Wodehouse which was revised before the 1934 opening by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse in their first collaboration. In 1987, Timothy Crouse (son of Russel) and John Weidman updated the script for a Lincoln Center Theatre production. It was that version which the Rep presented.

The cast was led by Rep newcomers Heather Ayers and Pat McRoberts. Kelly Vivian, Thomas-David McDonald, Rick Cox, Julie Conners, Marlene Toth and Steve Wilkerson also were featured.

Others in the cast included Bob Hulsey, Amy Curnow, Annie Mistak, Allison Stodola, Sarah Squire, Miranda Vannoy, Pamela Crane, Buddy Reeder, Case Dillard, Christopher Brown, Don Hill, Daryl Minefee, Matt Crowle, Christopher Crane, Scott Duquette and Joe Terry.

Ron Hutchens was the choreographer. Others on the creative team included Mike Nichols (set), Yslan Hicks (costumes), Japhy Weideman (sound), and Leland Jones (lighting).

The production proved so successful that even before its June 1, 2001, opening night, the run was extended a week. It closed on June 24, instead of the original June 17.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1999’s AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN

A comedy about truth and trust, deception and decisions, Douglas Carter Beane’s As Bees in Honey Drown marked the first production of the 1999-2000 season for Arkansas Repertory Theatre.  It also signified the transition between Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker and Bob Hupp as artistic director.

Baker directed this very dark comedy set in a sleek, modern late 1990s Manhattan. A fast-paced and almost cinematic feeling was abetted by Mike Nichols’ set design of rotating panels.

The cast was led by Jonna McElrath (who had appeared in Angels in America and other productions at the Rep) and John Houfe (Rep’s The Three Musketeers).  Mark Waterman, Angie Gilbert and Lakeetra Gilbert were also in the cast.

Baker would booked his post-Artistic Director career at the Rep with Douglas Carter Beane projects. While his first show post-retirement was As Bees in Honey Drown, his final was Sister Act which featured a revised libretto by Beane.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: THE LEGACY PROJECT: IT HAPPENED IN LITTLE ROCK

Since today is Elizabeth Eckford’s birthday, the past Arkansas Rep production that is featured is 2007’s The Legacy Project: It Happened in Little Rock.

Culled from three years of research and over 80 interviews, playwright and director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj created a multi-faceted play with music that explored stories past and present of Central High’s desegregation and the legacy the events of those years have provided citizens of Little Rock, of Arkansas and of the United States.

The cast featured Destan Owens (playing parallel roles of a 1957 Harlem reporter and a 2007 artist (a stand-in for Maharaj) as well as nine other actors who played multiple roles of diverse ethnicity — from current Central students to the Little Rock Nine, from elected officials to blue-collar workers.  Those actors were J. Bernard Calloway, Mary-Pat Green, Taifa Harris, Shannon Lamb, Vanessa Lemonides, Arthur W. Marks, Gia McGlone, Nick Petrie and Julian Rebolledo.

The creative team included Sybil Roberts Williams (dramaturg), Michael Susko (choreographer and assistant director), Charles Creath (musical director) Steve Hudelson (musician), Mike Nichols (scenic design), Matthew Webb (lighting design), Leslie Bernstein (costume design), M. Jason Pruzin (sound design) and Lynda Kwallek (properties). Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp and Education Director Leslie Golden were also involved in shepherding the project over the years.

Funding for the production came, in part, from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The production ran from September 14 to September 30, 2007, in conjunction with other events commemorating the 50th anniversary.

In 2008, Maharaj directed a play called Little Rock Off Broadway. While a separate piece of drama, it was based on the research he conducted and infused by his experiences creating The Legacy Project: It Happened in Little Rock.