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.

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.)

Pay a call on THE ADDAMS FAMILY at the Weekend Theater

twt-Addams-FamilyCue the finger snaps and help the Weekend Theater kick off their 2015-2016 season with the ghoulishly fun Tony nominated musical The Addams Family.  Based on the Charles Addams cartoons and incorporating aspects of the 1960s TV series, this original musical is by the authors of Jersey Boys and The Wild Party.

Two families with vastly divergent cultures, mores, and expectations collide when the Addams hosts a dinner for Wednesday Addams’ “normal” boyfriend and his parents. Trust and fear, love and truth, acceptance and forgiveness are just a few things on the menu in this magnificently macabre new musical comedy created by Jersey Boys authors, Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice and Drama Desk Award winner, Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party).

The cast is led by Drew Ellis, Claudia Moskova Cremeens, Mackenzie Holtzclaw, Victor Basco, Dahren White, Ryan Whitfield, and Xavier Jones as the Addams household.  The guests are played by James West, Kristin Marts and Ethan Patterson.  Rounding out the cast are Emma Boone, Chloe Clement, Brian Earles, Kelsey Ivory, and Payton Justice.

The production is directed by Tom Crone with music direction by Lori Isner.  The show runs through July 28.  Performances are at 7:30pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 on Sunday afternoons.  On Friday, June 19 the curtain time is 8pm.

 

Award winning THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING at Weekend Theater

TWT Member WedNext at the Weekend Theater is The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers unflinching yet heart-warming look back at the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Winner of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Donaldson Award in 1950 for best play, The Member of the Wedding is based on the Carson McCullers multi-award winning novel by the same name. The play set during World War II takes place over a few days in late August, 1945.

It tells the poignant story of 12-year-old tomboy, Frankie Addams, who, like many prepubescents, feels disconnected from everything in the world; in her words, an “unjoined person.” Frankie’s mother has died in childbirth, and her widowed father is a distant, vacuous figure who has no idea of the anxiety his daughter is experiencing. Her closest companions in her small racially divided hometown are the family’s African American housekeeper and surrogate mother to Frankie, Berenice Sadie Brown, and her six-year-old pesky cousin, John Henry West. She has no other friends in her deeply southern birthplace and dreams of going away with her soldier brother and his bride-to-be on their honeymoon in the Alaskan wilderness. Frankie Addams desperately wants to become “joined” with the newlyweds in The Member of the Wedding.

Directed by Margaret Pierson Bates, the production opens tonight and runs through May 30 on Friday and Saturday evenings.

The cast includes Danette Scott Perry, Ellis Golden, Alex Harkins, Barry Clifton, Elizabeth Bartyzal, Peter Emery, Amanda Oxford, Stacy Williams Jr., Eric Tate, Akasha Hull, Allison Filbert, Claire Green, Jeffrey Oakley, Hannah Smith, Nikolai Gordeev, Drew Ellis, Keith Harper, Tommie Tinker, Alexander White, Terry White and Ryan Whitfield.

 

World premiere of Phillip McMath’s play KARSKI’S MESSAGE next at Weekend Theater

Karaskis-Message-Poster_LgThe latest offering of the Weekend Theater is a world premiere of Phillip McMath’s new play, Karski’s Message.

A local playwright, lawyer and historian, McMath based the play on the true story of Jan Karski, a Polish World War II resistance fighter and later professor at Georgetown University. In 1942 and 1943, Karski escaped capture and near death to report to the Western Allies — Britain and the United States — on the situation in German-occupied Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the secretive German-Nazi extermination camps. Karski personally met with world leaders, telling them about the situation in Poland, becoming the first eyewitness to try to convince the world that the Jewish Holocaust was a reality.

The cast includes Ryan Whitfield, Jeff Lewellen, Terry White, Brice Ward, Madison Wolfe, Barry Clifton, Tommie Tinker, Ann Norris, Deb Lewis, Bill Jones, Alexander White, Elijah White, Lauren Lasseigne and Justin Wolfe.  It is directed by Matthew Mentgen.

The play opened last night and continues its run tonight, April 17 & 18 and April 24 & 25. Curtain times are 7:30.

 

A Charmed Two Hours at THE LAST FIVE YEARS

L5Y TST setWith The Last Five Years, the fledgling Studio Theatre has staked its claim as a force in Little Rock’s community theatre scene.  This production of Jason Robert Brown’s time-bending, two character musical highlights not only the talents Little Rock offers, but also the virtues of the space in which it was performed.

The musical tells of the rise and fall of the relationship of budding novelist Jamie and struggling actress Cathy.  The audience sees his perspective moving forward and her’s moving backwards with the two intersecting only momentarily at their wedding.  Because of this conceit, there is very little chance for interaction between actors Jeremy Hall and Erin Martinez. But what the show does offer is ample opportunities for each to shine as they thoroughly inhabit the characters.

As Cathy, Martinez uses her expressive features and wide vocal range (notes and styles) to move from pathos to frustration to love and excitement.  From his first entrance to his final exit, Hall is full of energy. It moves from nerves to joy to confidence to guilt and finally resignation. His pace may vary, but there is ever-present force in his trajectory.

This is a small show full of quiet moments. Hall and Martinez are both able to maximize these moments with a change in posture, a small gesture, a tilt of the head or a raised eyebrow.  They also each have moments of joyous ebullience where they let go – while staying in character. For Martinez it was “A Summer in Ohio” which joyfully recounts a hellish summer. Hall had several lively songs but his highlight was probably “The Schmuel Song” where he channels a bit of Tevye in a dopey romantic way.

Director Ryan Whitfield kept the action fluid as it shifted between the two perspectives and time frames.  He ensured honest portrayals and created an atmosphere where the audience was more eavesdropping than “watching a performance.” He also kept the continuity so that the two halves of the same scene (played at different times in the show) gelled properly.

Musical Director Mark Binns not only maximized the vocal talents of the two performers, he led the live band through the score’s varied musical styles. (It was a pleasure to walk in to the theatre and hear an orchestra warming up – a joy one misses with pre-recorded music or only a synthesizer or keyboard.)  Musicians Bob Bidewell, Charlie Friedman, Brian Wolverton, Sam Clark and Binns displayed their own musical talents while also supporting the singers.

With a proscenium stage, tiered seating in comfortable chairs, and a balcony for orchestra and technicians, the Studio Theatre provides a “traditional” theatre setting. It, however, has enough flexibility to incorporate a blackbox-like setting as needed.  While theatre can be performed any where, too often community theatre tries to do “proscenium” shows in a blackbox setting for economic and not artistic reasons.  The Studio Theatre space allows for both types of settings which means that decisions can be made based on artistic reasons.

While this production could have been done on a completely blank space, the set (by Whitfield and Matthew Mentgen) features levels and a variety of distinct playing areas that enhanced the production.  The giant clock on the back wall served not only as a visually interesting element, but the changing hands were an added touch as the story moved back and forth.

The Last Five Years tells a tale that is both humorous and heartbreaking, woeful and wistful. These are not heroes and heroines – they are two humans caught up in this thing known as living and loving.  By the end of the performance, Martinez and Hall have taken the audience on a journey full of faults, flaws, fascination, fondness, first-dates, first novels and a snake named Wayne. What more could you want?

 

 

The Last Five Years continues Friday and Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm at The Studio Theatre.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS for 5 performances only at the Studio Theatre

last-five-years-musical-54There are always at least two sides to every story.  In Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years, the audience get the “his” and “her” perspectives of a relationship. But there is a twist. One is told forwards, while one is told backwards with the characters meeting in the middle.  It is a funny, charming, heartwarming, heartbreaking look at life, love and loss.  Jamie is a rising novelist and Cathy is a struggling actress.  The challenges of their two careers add a layer to the complexities of their relationship.

The Studio Theatre is presenting this two character musical January 16, 17, 23, 24 & 25.  The Friday and Saturday performances are at 7pm and the Sunday performance starts at 2pm.

Ryan Whitfield directed Jeremy Hall and Erin Martinez in the production. Mark Binns in the musical director.

The Studio Theatre is connected to the Lobby Bar which provides opportunities for libations (beer, wine and non-alocholic) before the show, at intermission and after the show.