Opening night on Broadway for LR native Will Trice as a producer of revival of YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU

YCTIWY bwayThree time Tony winner (and Little Rock native) Will Trice is heading back to Broadway this fall as a producer of an all-star revival of the Pulitzer Prize winning comedy You Can’t Take It with You.  The show opens tonight

The cast will be led by two time Tony winner James Earl Jones.  The production will mark a reunion from the recent revival of The Best Man for Jones with actress Elizabeth Ashley and producers Jeffrey Richards and Trice.

The Little Rock Central alum has won a Tony for each of the past three seasons. This marks the first project for the Trice for the 2014-2015 season.

First performed on Broadway at the height of the Great Depression (in a Pulitzer Prize winning run), it has not been revived on Broadway since 1983.  You Can’t Take It with You, by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, celebrates the American spirit as well as spirited family life.  Others in the cast, which is to be directed by multiple Tony nominee Scott Ellis, are Tony nominee Kristine Nielsen, Tony nominee Reg Rogers, Tony nominee Annaleigh Ashford, Theatre World winner Crystal A. Dickinson and stage veterans Byron Jennings and Julie Halston.

Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

Mark Linn-Baker, who has cut his teeth on both stage and TV, is also in the cast. Others in the show include Marc Damon Johnson and Patrick Kerr. Three time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown is composing music for the play.

Performances started at New York’s Longacre Theatre on August 26.

Trice’s Tony Awards came for the 2014 Best Play All the Way, 2013 Best Play Revival Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the 2012 Best Musical Revival Porgy and Bess.  He also received a nomination for 2012 Best Play Revival for The Best Man.  This past year, of the 26 Tony Awards presented, seven went to shows produced by Jeffrey Richards and Will Trice.

Little Rock Look Back: Actor and author Ben Piazza

BdP book photo

BDP LRHS

Actor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock.  Piazza graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951 as valedictorian. He also had starred in the senior play that year (The Man Who Came to Dinner) and edited the literary magazine.

Keeping the Tiger as his mascot, Piazza attended college at Princeton University.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.  Following his 1955 graduation, he moved to New York City and studied at the Actor’s Studio.

BDP PU

Piazza was an understudy in the 1956 play, Too Late the Phalarope at the Belasco Theatre.  In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. Other cast members included Claudia McNeil (who originated the part of Lena in A Raisin in the Sun) and Sandra Church (who originated the part of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy).

In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre. This two actor play also featured Sessue Hayakawa, who played a Japanese soldier who spoke only his native language.  Therefore, Piazza’s part was largely a very lengthy monologue.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

As the 1960s dawned, Piazza joined a small cadre of actors who had achieved status on Broadway who then also returned to acting Off Broadway.  Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and James Earl Jones were others in this select group who helped establish Off Broadway as an entity in itself, instead of being just a farm team for Broadway.

Piazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second Stringwith Shirley Booth, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nina Foch, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Carrie Nye.   Following that, he started his association with Edward Albee by appearing as the title character inThe American Dream.  That play opened at the York Playhouse in January 1961.  Later that year, he appeared in Albee’s The Zoo Story opposite original cast member William Daniels at the East End Theatre.

piazza

Also in 1961 Piazza starred in several plays during a South American tour sponsored by the American Repertory Company.  He played Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Cameraand Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth.  In 1962, he starred in a series of plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Piazza returned to Broadway to star along with Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon in The Fun Couple at the Lyceum Theatre. This play had a troubled rehearsal period, which was documented in a short film about Jane Fonda.

Ben Piazza stayed on Broadway and returned to Albee in February 1963.  He took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when original actor George Grizzard left to play Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre.  (He had participated in earlier readings of the play prior to it being mounted on Broadway.)

This play was at the Billy Rose Theatre, which marked a return for Piazza. He had acted at this theatre when it was the National while doing Winseburg.  Piazza played Nick for the remainder of the run and acted with Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, fellow Arkansan Melinda Dillon, Eileen Fulton, Nancy Kelly, Mercedes McCambridge, Rochelle Oliver and Sheppard Strudwick.

Exact and Very Strange cover

During the run of this show, Piazza’s novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth was published.  It is a fictionalized account of his growing up in Little Rock during the 1930s and 1940s.  The book is filled with references to Centennial Elementary, Westside Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.  The Piazza Shoe Store, located on Main Street, was called Gallanti’s.

Following Virginia Woolf, he starred in The Zoo Story at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1965.  In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.

As Sunday Agreement was opening, Piazza was in rehearsal for his next Broadway opening. He appeared with Alfred Drake in The Song of the Grasshopper in September 1967.  In 1968, he returned to Albee and starred in The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story in repertory on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre.

Later that season, in March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It was directed by future Tony nominee Peter Masterson and starred Louise Lasser, Robert Walden (who starred in the 2013 production of Death of a Salesman at Arkansas Repertory Theatre), Clinton Allmon and Dolores Dorn-Heft, to whom Piazza was married at the time.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. He also appeared in major regional theatres as an actor and a director.  During this time period he was in productions of Bus Stop, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, You Know I Can’t Hear You when the Water’s Running  and Savages.  In 1970, he starred as Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

BDP early

Piazza’s film debut was in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, Maria Schell and George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree.  Though he received positive reviews for his performances, Piazza chose to return to New York and perform in stage and TV productions.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows including Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, The Naked City and Dick Powell Theatre.  He had a recurring role during one season of Ben Casey and appeared on the soap opera Love of Life.

In the 1970s, he starred in the films Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; The Candy Snatchers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  He also starred as the City Councilman who recruits Walter Matthau to coach a baseball team in The Bad News Bears.

Among his numerous TV appearances in the 1970s were The Waltons, Mannix, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Lou Grant (where he was reunited with Walden).

BDP final

In the 1980s, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, Hart to Hart, Family Ties, The Winds of War, Dallas, Dynasty, Too Close for Comfort, The A Team, Saint Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, The Facts of Life, Mr. Belvedere, Moonlighting and Matlock.

Piazza’s final big screen appearance was in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion.  He played studio head Darryl Zanuck in this Robert DeNiro-Annette Bening tale of Hollywood during the Red scare.

Ben Piazza died on September 7, 1991.

LR native and 3 time Tony winner Will Trice headed back to Broadway as a producer of revival of YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU.

YCTIWY bwayThree time Tony winner (and Little Rock native) Will Trice is heading back to Broadway this fall as a producer of an all-star revival of the Pulitzer Prize winning comedy You Can’t Take It with You.

The cast will be led by two time Tony winner James Earl Jones.  Additional casting was announced yesterday.  The production will mark a reunion from the recent revival of The Best Man for Jones with actress Elizabeth Ashley and producers Jeffrey Richards and Trice.

The Little Rock Central alum has won a Tony for each of the past three seasons. This marks the first announced project for the Trice for the 2014-2015 season.

First performed on Broadway at the height of the Great Depression, it has not been revived on Broadway since 1983.  You Can’t Take It with You, by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, celebrates the American spirit as well as spirited family life.  Others in the cast, which is to be directed by multiple Tony nominee Scott Ellis, are Tony nominee Kristine Nielsen, Tony nominee Reg Rogers, Tony nominee Annaleigh Ashford, Theatre World winner Crystal A. Dickinson and stage veterans Byron Jennings and Julie Halston.

Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

Mark Linn-Baker, who has cut his teeth on both stage and TV, is also in the cast. Others in the show include Marc Damon Johnson and Patrick Kerr. Three time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown is composing music for the play.

Performances will start at New York’s Longacre Theatre on August 26 with an official opening night of September 28.

Trice’s Tony Awards came for the 2014 Best Play All the Way, 2013 Best Play Revival Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the 2012 Best Musical Revival Porgy and Bess.  He also received a nomination for 2012 Best Play Revival for The Best Man.  This past year, of the 26 Tony Awards presented, seven went to shows produced by Jeffrey Richards and Will Trice.

Arkansas Rep’s premiere of revival of PAL JOEY closes today

PalJoeyToday is the last chance to catch the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s world premiere revival of Pal Joey.

Kicking off the 2013-2014 season, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s Pal Joey has been reimagined by Tony winner Peter Schneider.  He and Rep Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp have assembled a stellar cast and creative team to bring this classic tale to a new life.  The Rodgers and Hart songs are woven into a new book by Patrick Pacheco based on the stories of John O’Hara.

Peter Schneider is the Tony Award-winning producer of the internationally acclaimed Broadway musical The Lion King. He produced the award-winning documentary, “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” about Disney animation from 1984-1994, a decade within his 17-year tenure at the company where he served as President of the animation department and, later, as Chairman of the studio.

A new score has been enhanced with other memorable songs from the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart catalog, such as “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Sing for Your Supper,” intermingled with gems from the original 1940 show like “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “I Could Write a Book.” This Pal Joey explodes on stage with timeless jazz favorites, stunning tap dance numbers and plenty of sparkle while exploring morality, race, class and the timeless relationship between power and sex.

The cast is led by Clifton Oliver in the title role.  Playing the women vying for his attention are Erica Hanrahan-Ball and Theatre World Award winner Stephanie Umoh.  Jonas Cohen plays an added complication to the mix.  Others in the cast are Danielle Erin Rhodes, Jeffrey Johnson II, Elise Kinnon, Jordy Lievers, Joel Pellini, Ian Jordan Subsara and Matthew K. Tatus.  Michael Reno serves as the Musical Director and leads the band accompanying Joey.

Joining Schneider, Pacheco and Reno in the creative team are choreographer Dan Knechtges, scenic designer David Potts, costume designer Rafael Colon Castanera, props designer Lynda J. Kwallek, lighting designer Michael J. Eddy and sound designer Allan Branson.

Performances today are at 2pm and 7pm.

Become “Bewitched” as PAL JOEY opens at Ark Rep tonight

PalJoeyThe Arkansas Repertory Theatre kicks off its 2013-2014 season tonight with a musical that is already generating national buzz.
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s Pal Joey has been reimagined by Tony winner Peter Schneider.  He and Rep Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp have assembled a stellar cast and creative team to bring this classic tale to a new life.  The Rodgers and Hart songs are woven into a new book by Patrick Pacheco based on the stories of John O’Hara.
After previews earlier this week, the production opens officially tonight and runs through September 29.

Edgy for its time, Pal Joey is perhaps best known for the 1957 film version starring Frank Sinatra. Director Peter Schneider’s production breathes new life into this classic tale and brings a modern day relevance to the story that unfolds amidst this richly romantic score.“Arkansas Repertory Theatre is the perfect environment for the artistic collaborative process required to reinvent a musical,” says Schneider. “I am thrilled to partner with Arkansas Rep and Bob to present the world premiere of this exciting new version of Pal Joey.”

Peter Schneider is the Tony Award-winning producer of the internationally acclaimed Broadway musical The Lion King. He produced the award-winning documentary, “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” about Disney animation from 1984-1994, a decade within his 17-year tenure at the company where he served as President of the animation department and, later, as Chairman of the studio.

A new score has been enhanced with other memorable songs from the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart catalog, such as “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Sing for Your Supper,” and “Glad To Be Unhappy” intermingled with gems from the original 1940 show like “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “I Could Write a Book.” Also included from the original 1940 score is the song “What is a Man?” This Pal Joey answers that question in the most provocative and unexpected ways, exploding on stage with timeless jazz favorites, stunning tap dance numbers and plenty of sparkle while exploring morality, race, class and the timeless relationship between power and sex.

The cast is led by Clifton Oliver in the title role.  Playing the women vying for his attention are Erica Hanrahan-Ball and Theatre World Award winner Stephanie Umoh.  Jonas Cohen plays an added complication to the mix.  Others in the cast are Danielle Erin Rhodes, Jeffrey Johnson II, Elise Kinnon, Jordy Lievers, Joel Pellini, Ian Jordan Subsara and Matthew K. Tatus.  Michael Reno serves as the Musical Director and leads the band accompanying Joey.

Joining Schneider, Pacheco and Reno in the creative team are Tony nominated choreographer Dan Knechtges, scenic designer David Potts, costume designer Rafael Colon Castanera, props designer Lynda J. Kwallek, lighting designer Michael J. Eddy and sound designer Allan Branson.

Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evening performances are at 7 p.m., Friday, Saturday evening performances are at 8 p.m. Sunday Matinees performances are at 2 p.m.

Little Rock Look Back: Ben Piazza

BdP book photo

BDP LRHS

Piazza at LR High School

Actor-director-playwright Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock.  Piazza graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951 as valedictorian. He also had starred in the senior play that year (The Man Who Came to Dinner) and edited the literary magazine.

Keeping the Tiger as his mascot, Piazza attended college at Princeton University.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.  Following his 1955 graduation, he moved to New York City and studied at the Actor’s Studio.

BDP PU

Piazza at Princeton

Piazza was an understudy in the 1956 play, Too Late the Phalarope at the Belasco Theatre.  In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. Other cast members included Claudia McNeil (who originated the part of Lena in A Raisin in the Sun) and Sandra Church (who originated the part of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy).

In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre. This two actor play also featured Sessue Hayakawa, who played a Japanese soldier who spoke only his native language.  Therefore, Piazza’s part was largely a very lengthy monologue.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

As the 1960s dawned, Piazza joined a small cadre of actors who had achieved status on Broadway who then also returned to acting Off Broadway.  Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and James Earl Jones were others in this select group who helped establish Off Broadway as an entity in itself, instead of being just a farm team for Broadway.

Piazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second Stringwith Shirley Booth, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nina Foch, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Carrie Nye.   Following that, he started his association with Edward Albee by appearing as the title character inThe American Dream.  That play opened at the York Playhouse in January 1961.  Later that year, he appeared in Albee’s The Zoo Story opposite original cast member William Daniels at the East End Theatre.

piazza

Also in 1961 Piazza starred in several plays during a South American tour sponsored by the American Repertory Company.  He played Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Cameraand Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth.  In 1962, he starred in a series of plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Piazza returned to Broadway to star along with Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon in The Fun Couple at the Lyceum Theatre. This play had a troubled rehearsal period, which was documented in a short film about Jane Fonda.

Ben Piazza stayed on Broadway and returned to Albee in February 1963.  He took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when original actor George Grizzard left to play Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre.  (He had participated in earlier readings of the play prior to it being mounted on Broadway.)

This play was at the Billy Rose Theatre, which marked a return for Piazza. He had acted at this theatre when it was the National while doing Winseburg.  Piazza played Nick for the remainder of the run and acted with Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, fellow Arkansan Melinda Dillon, Eileen Fulton, Nancy Kelly, Mercedes McCambridge, Rochelle Oliver and Sheppard Strudwick.

Exact and Very Strange cover

During the run of this show, Piazza’s novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth was published.  It is a fictionalized account of his growing up in Little Rock during the 1930s and 1940s.  The book is filled with references to Centennial Elementary, Westside Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.  The Piazza Shoe Store, located on Main Street, was called Gallanti’s.

Following Virginia Woolf, he starred in The Zoo Story at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1965.  In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.

As Sunday Agreement was opening, Piazza was in rehearsal for his next Broadway opening. He appeared with Alfred Drake in The Song of the Grasshopper in September 1967.  In 1968, he returned to Albee and starred in The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story in repertory on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre.

Later that season, in March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It was directed by future Tony nominee Peter Masterson and starred Louise Lasser, Robert Walden (starred in the 2013 production of Death of a Salesman at Arkansas Repertory Theatre), Clinton Allmon and Dolores Dorn-Heft, to whom Piazza was married at the time.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. He also appeared in major regional theatres as an actor and a director.  During this time period he was in productions of Bus Stop, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, You Know I Can’t Hear You when the Water’s Running  and Savages.  In 1970, he starred as Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

BDP early

Piazza headshot for HANGING TREE

Piazza’s film debut was in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, Maria Schell and George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree.  Though he received positive reviews for his performances, Piazza chose to return to New York and perform in stage and TV productions.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows including Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, The Naked City and Dick Powell Theatre.  He had a recurring role during one season of Ben Casey and appeared on the soap opera Love of Life.

In the 1970s, he starred in the films Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; The Candy Snatchers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  He also starred as the City Councilman who recruits Walter Matthau to coach a baseball team in The Bad News Bears.

Among his numerous TV appearances in the 1970s were The Waltons, Mannix, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Lou Grant (where he was reunited with Walden).

BDP final

Piazza in the late 1980s

In the 1980s, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, Hart to Hart, Family Ties, The Winds of War, Dallas, Dynasty, Too Close for Comfort, The A Team, Saint Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, The Facts of Life, Mr. Belvedere, Moonlighting and Matlock.

Piazza’s final big screen appearance was in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion.  He played studio head Darryl Zanuck in this Robert DeNiro-Annette Bening tale of Hollywood during the Red scare.

Ben Piazza died on September 7, 1991.