42 Years of Arkansas Rep

On November 11, 1976, the curtain went up on the first Arkansas Repertory Theatre production.  It was the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical The Threepenny Opera.  Rep founder Cliff Baker directed the show and played the leading role of Macheath aka Mack the Knife.

Others in the cast included local attorney Herb Rule, Jean Lind, Theresa Glasscock, Connie Gordon and Guy Couch.  Byl Harriell was the technical director and production designer while Donia Crofton was the costume designer.

The production took place in the Rep’s home which was the converted former home of Hunter United Methodist Church on the eastern edge of MacArthur Park.  (Harriell’s business Bylites is now in that location.)

Baker had previously worked at the Arkansas Arts Center theatre when it was attached to a degree granting MFA program. He had also directed shows in other parts of Arkansas.  He returned to Little Rock and founded the Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre which performed in Hillcrest.  The Arkansas Repertory Theatre was a step forward with the establishment of a professional repertory company.

The first season of the Rep would include Company, Suddenly Last Summer, Marat/Sade, and Stop the World–I Want to Get Off. Season tickets for a total of seven shows were $30.

Baker served as Artistic Director of Arkansas Rep from 1976 until 1999.

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31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1989’s NOISES OFF

Michael Frayn’s three act satirical farce NOISES OFF pokes fun at the theatrical world.  This Tony nominated play within a play about the production of a British farce NOTHING ON took to the Arkansas Rep stage in June 1989.

Directed by Terry Sneed, the cast featured James Harbour as Nothing On’s director, and Theresa Quick as the leading lady.  Others in the cast were Vivian Morrison, Don Bolinger, Peter Bradshaw, Alan Hanson, Jane McNeill, Carolyn Pugh and Jon Meyer.

The first and third acts take place on the set of Nothing On in a house that was once a 16th century posset mill. The second act shows the backstage happenings during a performance.  The set (which rotated between acts) was designed by Nels Anderson.

The production ran from June 8 to 24, 1989.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD opens new theatre in 1988

While audience members were tasked with solving THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD at Arkansas Rep in October 1988, they also had the chance to explore the new home for the Rep. This Tony winning musical marked the opening of the new Main Street location after twelve years in the converted church adjacent to MacArthur Park.

The move to Main Street had been in the works for over three years. It was announced around the same time The Mystery of Edwin Drood was being rehearsed for its original Off Broadway production. In the interim, this musical whodunnit written and composed by Rupert Holmes had transferred to Broadway and won the 1986 Tony Award for Best Musical.

Terry Sneed and Theresa Quick led the cast, which was directed by Cliff Fannin Baker. Others in the cast of 29 included Art Arney, Don Bolinger, Richard Glover, Julianne Griffin, Vivian Morrison, and Debbie Weber.

Sharon Douglas was the pianist and music director. Others on the creative team included Keith Belli (set), Kathy Gray (lighting), and Mark Hughes (costumes).

Audience members actually had three mysteries to solve each night: who killed Drood, who was disguising themself as Dick Datchery, and which lovers would be united at the end.  This meant the actors had to learn a variety of options and endings, and be prepared to perform them at a moment’s notice.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 1988’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS

The final Arkansas Rep production in its original home was Robert Harling’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS.  Demand for tickets was so strong that the run was extended by over a week even before the show opened. (Having the next show opening in the new space probably allowed for this extension to be possible because there was not a concern about an overlap of space needs.)

This tale of six Southern women of varying ages featured Victoria Holloway and Casey Alexander as a mother and daughter, Theresa Quick and Francine Thomas as the owner of a beauty salon and her employee, with Francis Kemp and Candyce Hinkle as a pair of lifelong friends rounding out the cast.

Selected by Cliff Fannin Baker, the show was still running Off Broadway and had not yet been made into a movie when it was announced for the Rep’s season.  The show was directed by Cathey Crowell Sawyer.  The creative team included Mike Nichols (set), Mark Hughes (costumes), Robert A. Jones (lighting) and Sheri Bethel (sound).

Nichols and Hinkle would reunite with this title when the Rep mounted it to kick off the 30th season in 2005.

31 Days of Arkansas Rep: THE THREEPENNY OPERA

October is Arts and Humanities Month.  This year, each day a different past Arkansas Repertory Theatre production will be featured.  This is, in part, a tribute to the late Cliff Baker, and also a countdown to the Rep’s re-emergence.

Up first, is the first Arkansas Repertory Theatre production: 1976’s THE THREEPENNY OPERA.

On November 11, 1976, the curtain went up on the first Arkansas Repertory Theatre production.  It was the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical The Threepenny Opera.  Rep founder Cliff Baker directed the show and played the leading role of Macheath aka Mack the Knife.

Others in the cast included local attorney Herb Rule, Jean Lind, Theresa Glasscock, Connie Gordon and Guy Couch.  Byl Harriell was the technical director and production designer while Donia Crofton was the costume designer.

The production took place in the Rep’s home which was the converted former home of Hunter United Methodist Church on the eastern edge of MacArthur Park.  (Harriell’s business Bylites is now in that location.)

Baker had previously worked at the Arkansas Arts Center theatre when it was attached to a degree granting MFA program. He had also directed shows in other parts of Arkansas.  He returned to Little Rock and founded the Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre which performed in Hillcrest.  The Arkansas Repertory Theatre was a step forward with the establishment of a professional repertory company.

The first season of the Rep would include Company, Suddenly Last Summer, Marat/Sade, and Stop the World–I Want to Get Off. Season tickets for a total of seven shows were $30.

Little Rock Look Back: Arkansas Rep’s First Show

rep-firstOn November 11, 1976, the curtain went up on the first Arkansas Repertory Theatre production.  It was the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical The Threepenny Opera.  Rep founder Cliff Baker directed the show and played the leading role of Macheath aka Mack the Knife.

Others in the cast included local attorney Herb Rule, Jean Lind, Theresa Glasscock, Connie Gordon and Guy Couch.  Byl Harriell was the technical director and production designer while Donia Crofton was the costume designer.

The production took place in the Rep’s home which was the converted former home of Hunter United Methodist Church on the eastern edge of MacArthur Park.  (Harriell’s business Bylites is now in that location.)

Baker had previously worked at the Arkansas Arts Center theatre when it was attached to a degree granting MFA program. He had also directed shows in other parts of Arkansas.  He returned to Little Rock and founded the Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre which performed in Hillcrest.  The Arkansas Repertory Theatre was a step forward with the establishment of a professional repertory company.

The first season of the Rep would include Company, Suddenly Last Summer, Marat/Sade, and Stop the World–I Want to Get Off. Season tickets for a total of seven shows were $30.

Baker served as Artistic Director of Arkansas Rep from 1976 until 1999.  Earlier this year, he stepped in as Interim Artistic Director between the tenures of Bob Hupp and John Miller-Stephany.  He is currently preparing to direct Sister Act for the Rep in January 2017.

 

Shark Week Special: Mack the Knife at Arkansas Rep

1976 Gazette photo by Steve Keesee

1976 Gazette photo of Cliff Baker by Steve Keesee

In honor of Shark Week and the upcoming 40th anniversary season at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, a quick look back at the Rep’s first production.

In November 1976, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s debut production was the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical The Threepenny Opera.  In the Marc Blitzstein translation, the opening song begins with these appropriate-for-Shark Week lyrics:

Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear,
And he shows them pearly white;
Just a jack-knife has Macheath, dear,
And he keeps it out of sight!

When the shark bites with his teeth, dear,
Scarlet billows start to spread;
Fancy gloves, though, wears Macheath, dear,
So there’s not a trace of red!

Often called “Mack the Knife” the song’s title is officially “Moritat” which translates to “Deadly Deed.”  In the original Arkansas Rep production, the song was sung about the Rep’s founder and artistic director Cliff Baker who played Macheath.  He also directed this production.  Others in the cast included Herb Rule, Jean Lind, Theresa Quick, Connie Gordon and Guy Couch.

In his review in the Arkansas Gazette, Bill Lewis called the production “memorable” and that it achieved the intentions of the authors.  He praised the cast, the designers and orchestra as well as Baker’s directing.   All in all, it was an auspicious beginning which has prepared the Rep well.

Interestingly, the Rep’s 40th season starts with another blood-thirsty Mack. This one, Mackers or the Thane of Cawdor, headlines Shakespeare’s Scottish Play. This Mac spends a lot of time on the heath, so it seems a very appropriate way to pay homage to the inaugural Rep production. The Rep’s 40th season kicks off on September 11.