31 Days of Arkansas Rep: THE ELEPHANT MAN in 2009

Thirty years after it opened on Broadway, Arkansas Rep presented The Elephant Man.  Due to anticipated renovations at the Rep’s main stage, it was performed at Wildwood Park in the Cabe Festival Theatre.

Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker directed this production which starred Rep veteran Steve Wilkerson in the title role. Wilkerson, who had previously shown his skill and versatility in such varied roles as Peter Pan and Prior Walter, displayed his talents and physicality in portraying the deformed John Merrick.

Another Rep veteran, Joe Graves, played the doctor who befriended Merrick.  Others in the cast were Matt Walker, Nathan Klau, Val Landrum, Alanna Hammill Newton, and Wesley Mann.

The creative team included Mike Nichols (scenery), Marianne Custer (costumes), Matthew Webb (lighting), M. Jason Pruzin (sound), and Lynda J. Kwallek (props). The original score was composed by Buddy Habig, a Little Rock musician who died in December 2008.

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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: PETER PAN in 1994

Peter Pan flew into the window of the Darling’s nursery in December 1994 on the Arkansas Rep stage.  With a cast of thirty-six, Peter Pan was one of the Rep’s larger productions.

Directed by Brad Mooy, the production featured Steve Wilkerson in the title role. It gained some national press attention, because the role is usually played by women, so Wilkerson’s casting was a bit of a novelty.

Others in the cast were Ed Romanoff, Angie Ohren, Dustin Alford, Matthew Block, Peggy Billo, Tanya Duggar, Gary Taggart, Angie Foresman, and Linda Sue Sanders. The Lost Boys were played by Adam Napper, Bernie Baskin, James Knight, Brian Jones, Kale Ludwig, and Kyle Ludwig.

The pirates were played by Mark Hansen, Joel Gordon, Derek Reid, Shannon E. Farmer, Tony D. Owens Jr., DeJon Mayes, Kenneth Elins, Matt Patton, Eric Harrison and Tom Kagy. Taking on the roles of the indians were Suzan Hart, Rusty Miller, Mikel Brown, Ryan Martine, Patrick McNally, Christina Boatwright, Leslie Goodwin, Tori Petrus and Dennis Glasscock.

Glasscock was the production’s choreographer. Flying for Pan and others was created by Foy, the same firm which was responsible for Mary Martin’s flying in the role on Broadway in 1954. Hans Stiritz was the musical director, Mike Nichols was set designer, and Don Bolinger provided costume design.

The production was so successful, it was nearly sold out before it opened.  Two years later, the Rep reprised it.  There were some different design elements as well as a largely different cast. Wilkerson returned as did Ohren, Dugger, Gordon, Knight, Napper, Alford,  Petrus, and Kagy.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: ANGELS IN AMERICA (1996 and 1997)

In 1996, the Arkansas Rep presented Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches.  It was one of seven professional theatres granted the rights to do the show that season.  The production ran from February 29 to March 17 of that year.

Directed by Brad Mooy, the production came about due to lobbying of the Broadway producers by Rep Artistic Director Cliff Baker.  There was skepticism in New York as to how Little Rock audiences would respond. And, to be honest, there was skepticism in Little Rock, too.  But the rights were granted, and Little Rock embraced the play.

The next season, the Rep brought Part I back to be joined by Part II for the opportunity experience a theatrical marathon.  The Rep’s production was unprecedented in Little Rock. It was not just a rarity for the Rep, such an undertaking had never been done by any theatre in town.

Directed by Brad Mooy, the 1997 dual production required five weeks of rehearsals (more than the usual amount).  Six of the eight actors from the 1996 production returned for the second go around.

As it had been in 1996, the cast was led by Rep favorite Steve Wilkerson. Others in the cast were Caitlin Hart, Jo Anne Robinson, Jonathan Lamer, Jonna McElrath and Ray Ford. The two new additions were Christopher Swan and Ken Kramer.  They played the roles which Barry Stewart Mann and Fred Baker had played the prior year.

The design team included Mike Nichols (sets), Don Bolinger (costumes), David Neville (lighting), Melissa Wakefield (properties), Rob Milburn (sound), and ZFX Inc. (flying).

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1995’s THE RAINMAKER

N. Richard Nash’s romantic drama with comedy, The Rainmaker took over the Arkansas Rep stage in January and February 1995. Following the run in Little Rock, it toured the US through April of that year.

The production was directed by Rep founder and Artistic Director Cliff Fannin Baker. It reunited him with several long-time Rep actors Vivian Morrison, Ronald J. Aulgur, Steve Wilkerson, Richard Glover, and Mark Johnson.

Baker had previously directed Robert Standley in a production of the show, and brought him in to reprise his role as the title character.  Rounding out the cast was Rep newcomer John Stiritz.

The creative team included Mike Nichols (sets), Don Bolinger (costumes), David Neville (lighting) and Chip Salerno (sound).  Salerno also wrote and recorded the music which underscored the production.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: The 1986 production of THE FOREIGNER

Blasny Blasny.  Larry Shue’s 1984 farce THE FOREIGNER made its first of four appearances on the Arkansas Rep stage in January 1986.

Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker, it featured Terry Sneed as the title character, a mild-mannered man who pretends to be a non-English speaking foreigner to avoid interactions with locals at a small-town hunting resort.

Others in the cast were Steve Wilkerson, Mark Johnson, Ron Aulgur, Scott Edmonds, Natalie Canderday and Jean Lind.

The production ran from January 16 through February 9 of 1986. It was so popular that it sold out its run. Standing room only ticket holders filled all available spaces.  Gov. Bill Clinton called for tickets and could not be accommodated.

It has subsequently been mounted at the Rep three times more: during the 1987/88, 1995/96 and 2008/09 seasons. It is the only play to have been staged that many times in the Rep’s history.

The 1988 staging featured Wilkerson, Sneed, and Johnson reprising their roles.