Creative Class of 2015: Justin A. Pike

Justin PikeDirector, actor, theatre-man-about-town Justin A. Pike has worked with just about every theatrical organization in Central Arkansas.  When he is not director, choreographing, designing, producing, and/or acting in a show, he can generally be found in the audience watching one.

Currently, a production of The Rocky Horror Show, which he directed, is being performed at the Lantern Theatre in Conway.  Later this week, Reefer Madness opens at The Studio Theatre in downtown Little Rock.  Pike serves as the Artistic Director of that theatre.

Listing all of his roles at various Central Arkansas theatres would take much space.  Among some of his more recent efforts are directing Xanadu at The Studio Theatre, starring in The Music Man for the Royal Players, directing Legally Blonde for the Royal Theatre, acting in Baby for Community Theatre of Little Rock, and directing Footloose for the Royal Players.  He is equally at home working with comedies, dramas and musicals.

 

August 9 is National Book Lover’s Day

bldAugust 9 is National Book Lover’s Day (or Book Lovers Day or Book Lovers’ Day — take your pick).

However you punctuate it, today is a day for those who love to read.  It is set aside to encourage you to kick back and relax with a great book. From shaded spots under arching trees to being tucked up warm in bed, there’s no better way to celebrate today than to while the hours away lost in a book.

A few years ago Huffington Post offered these suggestions as activities for this “holiday.” I’ve annotated them with thoughts of my own.

1) Visit your local library (bonus points if you hum “A Trip to the Library” or “Marian, Madame Librarian” when you do)

2) Reread an old favorite (CliffsNotes don’t count-except for Faulkner because Mala Rogers said it was okay.)

3) Drop some literary references (commiserate a sports loss with a “there is no joy in Mudville;” describe something tiny as Lilliputian; express frustration with “Fiddle dee dee”)

4) Get a new bookshelf (or build one.  or get a book about how to build one.)

5) Give the gift of reading (read to someone — just make sure it is age appropriate — the original Grimm Folk Tales are not intended for pre-school audiences)

6) Hit up a literary haunt (Jay Jennings can probably suggest several Arkansas locations, or you can go to the Capital Bar–many journalists have scribbled notes on napkins there which have made there ways into political books)

7) Host your own book club (or crash your neighbor’s)

8) Host a book lovers party (or tell people you went to one dressed as the Invisible Man–either Wells or Ellison version)

9) Contact your favorite living author (just make sure there isn’t a restraining order because you already have tried this.  repeatedly. at inappropriate locations and times)

10) Donate (it does seem a sin to throw away a book. so pass it on)

 

So visit the Central Arkansas Library System or WordsWorth Books.  Make a pilgrimage to Piggott to see where Hemingway wrote part of A Farewell to Arms (which my classmates and I dubbed A Farewell to Leg because of the line, “I put my hand on my knee, it wasn’t there.”).  Crack open that book at home.  Go down a rabbit hole in search of your Green Light, your Dulcinea, or your Holy Grail.

For younger audiences, chew on a board book, marvel at a pop-up book, experience a scratch ‘n’ sniff book.

Whatever you do today, don’t let it go by without touching a book!  (Episcopalians have it covered with the BCP.)

Tony Awards Week – Tony Titles at Arkansas Rep

ark repNext year the Arkansas Repertory Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary season.  Since its first season, the Rep has often programmed plays and musicals which have been recognized with the Tony for Best Play or Best Musical of the season.

Many other Rep productions have been titles which have also won Tony Awards in some Broadway production.  But this list only looks at those which won or were nominated for the Tony for Best Play and Best Musical.

The first Rep production was The Threepenny Opera.  While it did not win the Tony for Best Musical, it goes on this list because it received a Special Tony in 1956 for its production.  The original production in the 1930s ran for just a few performances. So this production was not eligible for the Best Musical award. But it was so outstanding, it received a Special Tony.

That 1976-77 season also included a Best Play winner – The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, which took home the silver medallion for Best Play in 1966.

Rep SalesmanOther Tony Best Play winners produced by the Rep have been:

(Tony Year; Title; Rep season)

  • 1949 – Death of a Salesman – 2012-13
  • 1955 – The Diary of Anne Frank – 1977-78; 1981-82
  • 1960 – The Miracle Worker – 2004-05
  • 1963 – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – 1978-79
  • 1965 – The Subject Was Roses – 1981-82
  • 1973 – That Championship Season – 1984-85
  • 1979 – The Elephant Man – 2008-09
  • 1981 – Amadeus – 1995-96
  • 1984 – The Real Thing – 1986-87
  • 1985 – Biloxi Blues – 1987-88
  • 1986 – I’m Not Rappaport – 1989-90
  • 1987 – Fences – 2006-07
  • 1990 – The Grapes of Wrath – 2000-01
  • 1991 – Lost in Yonkers – 1994-95 (featuring future Tony winner Will Trice in the cast)
  • 1993 – Angels in America: Millennium Approaches – 1995-96; 1996-97
  • 1994 – Angels in America: Perestroika – 1996-97
  • 1997 – The Last Night of Ballyhoo – 1998-99
  • 1998 – Art – 2001-02
  • 2001 – Proof – 2002-03 (written by LR Hall graduate David Auburn)
  • 2005 – Doubt – 2007-08
  • 2008 – August: Osage County – 2014-15
  • 2010 – Red – 2013-14
  • 2012 – Clybourne Park – 2013-14

 

Next season the Rep will produce Peter and the Starcatcher which was nominated for Best Play in 2012.  Other Best Play nominees produced by the Rep include: Barefoot in the Park; Broadway Bound; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Crimes of the Heart; Frost/Nixon; The Gin Game; Glengarry Glen Ross; Having Our Say; Home; Lend Me a Tenor; A Lesson from Aloes; ‘Night, Mother; The Night of the Iguana; Noises Off; The Piano Lesson; The Rainmaker; A Raisin in the Sun; The Retreat from Moscow; Talley’s Folly; The 39 Steps; and A Walk in the Woods.

The Rep also produced House of Blue Leaves six years before it was nominated for Best Play at the Tonys. In addition, it produced All My Sons which received a Special Tony for playwright Arthur Miller at the first ceremony and is sometimes erroneously listed as being the Best Play of 1947. There was none that year.

 

THEREP_MEMPHIS (no credits)-page-001The 1971 Best Musical Company was part of the Rep’s inaugural season in 1976-77.  Other Tony Best Musicals winners produced by the Rep have been:

(Tony Year; Title; Rep season)

  • 1951 – Guys and Dolls – 1989-90
  • 1952 – The King and I – 2006-07
  • 1956 – Damn Yankees – 1999-2000
  • 1957 – My Fair Lady – 2004-05
  • 1960 – The Sound of Music – 2001-02
  • 1964 – Hello, Dolly! – 2007-08
  • 1967 – Cabaret – 2001-02
  • 1975 – The Wiz – 2011-12
  • 1976 – A Chorus Line – 2005-06
  • 1977 – Annie – 2002-03
  • 1978 – Ain’t Misbehavin’ – 1984-85; 2004-05
  • 1980 – Evita – 1989-90; 2010-11
  • 1986 – The Mystery of Edwin Drood – 1988-89
  • 1987 – Les Miserables – 2008-09; 2013-14
  • 2003 – Hairspray – 2010-11
  • 2004 – Avenue Q – 2012-13
  • 2010 – Memphis – 2014-15 (produced at Rep and on Broadway by LR native Remmel T. Dickinson)

In addition, the Rep has produced staged concert versions of 1958 Best Musical The Music Man and 1973 Best Musical A Little Night Music in collaboration with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

Next season the Rep will produce The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which was nominated for Best Musical in 2005.  Other Best Musical nominees produced by the Rep include: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; Blues in the Night; Chicago; Dreamgirls; Five Guys Named Moe; The Full Monty; Gypsy; Into The Woods; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Mary Poppins;  Next to Normal; Oh What A Lovely War; Once On This Island; Peter Pan; Pump Boys and Dinettes; Quilters; Side by Side by Sondheim; Smokey Joe’s Café; Stop the World, I Want To Get Off; Sweet Charity; West Side Story; and The Who’s Tommy.

Tony Awards Week – Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with…. HAIR?

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

The Tony winning musical The Music Man may have featured a song about “Trouble in River City” but the Tony nominated musical Hair brought trouble to this “river city” in 1971 and 1972.

In February 1971, a young Little Rock attorney named Phil Kaplan petitioned the Little Rock Board of Censors to see if it would allow a production of Hair to play in the city. He was asking on behalf of a client who was interested in bringing a national tour to Arkansas’ capital city. The show, which had opened on Broadway to great acclaim in April 1968 after an Off Broadway run in 1967, was known for containing a nude scene as well for a script which was fairly liberally sprinkled with four-letter words. The Censors stated they could not offer an opinion without having seen a production.

By July 1971, Kaplan and his client (who by then had been identified as local promoter Jim Porter and his company Southwest Productions) were seeking permission for a January 1972 booking of Hair from the City’s Auditorium Commission which was charged with overseeing operations at Robinson Auditorium. At its July meeting, the Commissioners voted against allowing Hair because of its “brief nude scene” and “bawdy language.”

Kaplan decried the decision. He stated that the body couldn’t “sit in censorship of legitimate theatrical productions.” He noted courts had held that Hair could be produced and that the Auditorium Commission, as an agent for the State, “clearly can’t exercise prior censorship.” He proffered that if the production was obscene it would be a matter for law enforcement not the Auditorium Commission.

The Commission countered that they had an opinion from City Attorney Joseph Kemp stating they had the authority. One of the Commissioners, Mrs. Grady Miller (sister-in-law of the building’s namesake the late Senator Robinson who had served on the Commission since 1939), expressed her concern that allowing Hair would open the door to other productions such as Oh! Calcutta!

On July 26, 1971, Southwest Productions filed suit against the Auditorium Commission. Four days later there was a hearing before Judge G. Thomas Eisele. At that hearing, Auditorium Commission member Lee Rogers read aloud excerpts from the script he found objectionable. Under questioning from Kaplan, a recent touring production of Neil Simon’s Tony winning play Plaza Suite was discussed. That play has adultery as a central theme of one of its acts. Rogers admitted he found the play funny, and that since the adultery did not take place on stage, he did not object to it.

Judge Eisele offered a ruling on August 11 which compelled the Auditorium Commission to allow Hair to be performed. Prior to the ruling, some of the Auditorium Commissioners had publicly stated that if they had to allow Hair they would close it after the first performance on the grounds of obscenity. To combat this, Judge Eisele stated that the Commission had to allow Hair to perform the entire six day engagement it sought.

Upon hearing of the Judge’s ruling, Commissioner Miller offered a succinct, two word response. “Oh, Dear!”

In the end, the production of Hair at Robinson would not be the first performance in the state.  The tour came through Fayetteville for two performances in October 1971. It played Barnhill Arena.

On January 18, 1972, Hair played the first of its 8 performances over 6 days at Robinson Auditorium.  In his review the next day, the Arkansas Gazette’s Bill Lewis noted that Hair “threw out all it had to offer” and that Little Rock had survived.

The ads promoting the production carried the tagline “Arkansas will never be the same.”  Tickets (from $2 all the way up to $8.50) could be purchased at Moses Melody Shops both downtown and in “The Mall” (meaning Park Plaza). That business is gone from downtown, but the scion of that family, Jimmy Moses, is actively involved in building downtown through countless projects. His sons are carrying on the family tradition too.

Little Rock was by no means unique in trying to stop productions of Hair.  St. Louis, Birmingham, Los Angeles, Tallahassee, Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte NC, West Palm Beach, Oklahoma City, Mobile and Chattanooga all tried unsuccessfully to stop performances in their public auditoriums.  Despite Judge Eisele’s ruling against the City of Little Rock, members of the Fort Smith City Council also tried to stop a production later in 1972 in that city. This was despite warnings from City staff that there was not legal standing.

Within a few years, the Board of Censors of the City of Little Rock would be dissolved (as similar bodies also were disappearing across the US). Likewise, the Auditorium Commission was discontinued before Hair even opened with its duties being taken over by the Advertising and Promotion Commission and the Convention & Visitors Bureau staff.  This was not connected to the Hair decision; it was, instead, related to expanding convention facilities in Robinson and the new adjacent hotel.  Regardless of the reasons for their demise, both bygone bodies were vestiges of earlier, simpler and differently focused days in Little Rock.

Over the years, Hair has returned to the Little Rock stage. It has been produced two more times at Robinson Center,  UALR has produced it twice, and the Weekend Theater has also mounted a production.   The most recent visit to Little Rock at Robinson Center, which was the final Broadway show before the building closed for renovations, was based on the 2009 Broadway revival.  That production, was nominated for eight Tony Awards, and captured the Tony for Revival of a Musical.  Several members of the production and creative team are frequent collaborators of Little Rock native Will Trice.

ROCKing the TONY AWARDS – Shirley Jones and Patrick Cassidy

Rock the TonysJones CassidyShirley Jones and Patrick Cassidy

Little Rock connection: Academy Award winner Jones has appeared with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. She and Cassidy, her son, will star in a production of The Music Man which Celebrity Attractions is bringing to Central Arkansas next year.

Tony Awards connection: Jones and Cassidy co-starred in the Tony winning revival of 42nd Street.  Cassidy also starred in the Tony nominated Best Musical Leader of the Pack and was featured at the 1985 Tony ceremony with that production.  Jones’ first husband (and Cassidy’s father) Jack Cassidy was a Tony winning actor.

ROCKing the TONYS – Rebecca Luker

Rock the TonysRebecca LukerRebecca Luker

Little Rock connection: Has twice appeared with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Once it was the Valentine Pops concert singing Broadway songs, the second was a semi-staged concert version of The Music Man.

Tony Awards connection: She has been nominated for three Tony Awards. The first was in 1995 as Actress in a Musical for Show Boat, the second was in 2000 as Actress in a Musical for The Music Man and the third was in 2007 as Featured Actress in a Musical for Mary Poppins.  She has also performed on the Tony Awards with The Secret Garden and The Sound of Music.

Today is her birthday.