Premiere of new production PROJECT ELAN next on stage at Arkansas Rep

Project êlan small2Project Élan is a brand-new, original, culture-current musical that seeks to shed light on the individual and universal needs of the millennial generation. Digital and uniquely undefinable, this generation seeks to find answers in an unpredictable world. And although they may appear to be an age overrun by technology and isolation, their dreams are timeless. The millennial generation still longs for the most basic of human needs – safety, hope and love.

Conceived and directed by The Rep’s Resident Director and Director of Education, Nicole Capri, Project Élan is written by Capri and seven SMTI alumni and staff including. The production, which opens on the 10-year anniversary of The Rep’s Summer Musical Theatre Intensive (SMTI) program, features approximately 50 of the best past and present alumni from the last decade of the program.

Project Élan features a diverse musical score with original songs from almost every genre of music – contemporary-alternative, acoustic-folk, urban-rock, indie-pop, jazz-fusion, Nashville-sound, progressive-Broadway and sunshine-pop.

The word “élan” – is defined in several ways — “to live in the moment,” “to live with reckless abandon and enthusiasm,” “confidence,” and “spirit.” The writers of this piece seek to produce a relevant and relatable musical that speaks to the heart of all generations.

Public previews begin tomorrow with the official opening night on Friday, May 8. The production runs through May 16.

The creative team includes:

  • Nicole Capri – conception, director, choreographer, writer
  • Mark Binns – writer, musical director
  • Bobby Banister – writer
  • Conly Basham – writer
  • Sam Clark – writer
  • Robert Frost – writer
  • Jimmy Landfair – writer
  • Charity Vance – writer
  • Marisa Kirby – choreographer
  • Stephen K. Stone – choreographer
  • Drew Posey – set designer
  • Shelly Hall – costume designer
  • Dan Kimble – lighting designer
  • Lynda J. Kwallek – props designer
  • Travis Mosler – video designer
  • Beth Thiemann – stage manager

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.

‘Project elan’ at Arkansas Rep

Project êlan small2Today at 1pm and 7pm, the Arkansas Rep’s Young Artists will perform a new work in progress.
Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s Resident Director and Director of Education, Nicole Capri has assembled a talented team of young musicians and writers to create a brand new, all-original musical, Project élan. This new musical will feature a mix of new songs from a wide variety of genres including contemporary-alternative, acoustic-folk, indie-pop, Nashville-sound and many more.

This year’s summer program will be unlike anything past participants have experienced before at The Rep. Project élan’s summer performances will be a-work- in-progress. Traditionally, The  Rep’s Young Artists have nine days to learn the songs, script and choreography for a summer production;  however, when the young artists arrived in July for rehearsals, the script will not be complete. Young artists will be heavily involved in script, storyline, design and character development. New script, music and staging changes will be made daily.  Audience members will also be encouraged to give feedback, complete surveys and directly interact with the actors and creative team.

The Rep offers two summer programs as part of its Summer Musical Theater Intensive (SMTI) training program for aspiring young artists in Arkansas.The SMTI creative team is comprised of professional directors, choreographers, musicians, designers and writers. Daily rehearsals are structured similarly to a professional summer stock experience and include instruction in musical theatre techniques, multi-media, costume and stage make-up, dance and vocal coaching. Each session involves intensive daily rehearsals culminating in a public workshop performance of a selected musical or musical revue.
Two weeks ago, the older students in SMTI performed Project élan. This weekend it is the time for the younger participants.

The project is overseen by Nicole Capri (director/choreographer) and Karen Q. Clark (music director).  The writers are Bobby Banister, Conly Basham, Sam Clark, Robert Frost, James Ebel Landfair and Charity Vance.  The choreography team includes Stacy Hawking, Sydney Ippolito, Marisa Kirby, Stephen K. Stone and Capri.  Christy Hawking is the assistant to the director and Beth Thiemann is the stage manager.