Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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2017 Tony Award predictions

Tony Tony TonyI have struggled with these a lot more this year because so many races are so close.  But here are my thoughts on the 2017 Tony Award potential winners.

Play
A Doll’s House, Part 2, Lucas Hnath
Indecent, Paula Vogel
Oslo, J.T. Rogers
Sweat, Lynn Nottage

Sweat was the early front-runner after picking up the Pulitzer; Oslo has captured every other award since then.  A Doll’s House, Part 2 has run a masterful campaign since the nominations and is likely to be a popular touring vehicle given its cast and set requirements (minimal). There is momentum for Hnath’s play, but Tony voters tend to love Lincoln Center Theater productions, of which Rogers’ play is one.  I think OSLO will triumph.

 

Best Musical
Come From Away
Dear Evan Hansen
Groundhog Day
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

“Great Comet” could be a spoiler, but the race is likely betwixt Come from Away and Dear Evan Hansen.  This is a case of “important” vs. “populist” though both pull at the emotional heartstrings repeatedly.  As much as I would love to see Come from Away win because a friend from college is in the cast (and I think it handles 9/11 without exploiting it), I suspect DEAR EVAN HANSEN will emerge with the silver medallion.

  

Revival of a Play
Jitney
The Little Foxes
Present Laughter
Six Degrees of Separation

Jitney seems to have the edge on this race.  Since it shares the same producer as The Little Foxes, this is one of those rare Tony races without aggressive campaigning.  This is a chance to recognize the genius that was August Wilson over a decade after his untimely death.  The Tony goes to JITNEY

 

Revival of a Musical
Falsettos
Hello, Dolly!
Miss Saigon

Call on Dolly!  It will be HELLO, DOLLY!

 

Actor in a Play
Denis Arndt, Heisenberg
Chris Cooper, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation
Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Jefferson Mays, Oslo

While there is an outside chance that Chris Cooper or Jefferson Mays could stage a coup, the award is KEVIN KLINE’s.  He wears the role like a silk dressing gown.

 

Actress in a Play
Cate Blanchett, The Present
Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie
Laura Linney, The Little Foxes
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2

The race is really between Metcalf and Linney.  But when it is that tight, there is an opening for an upset – with either Ehle (who Tony voters love) or Field poised to sweep in.  With both Linney and Metcalf having multiple nominations with no wins and a lot of support for their star turns, it is truly splitting hairs to pick a favorite.  Gut says LAURIE METCALF for creating an original role.  Plus, her other nominations have been for outstanding work in mediocre plays, whereas Linney has been recognized for strong work in better productions.  This is a chance to reward Metcalf for being in a better product.

 

Actor in a Musical
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day The Musical
David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

Andy Karl seems poised to be the 2010s Raul Esparza—that actor who gives it his all and walks away on Tony night empty handed every time.  While he gives it his all (physically) in Groundhog Day the award seems likely to go to wunderkind BEN PLATT who gives it his all (emotionally).

 

Actress in a Musical
Denée Benton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon

From the day her casting was announced, the engravers went to work on etching BETTE MIDLER’s name on this award.

 

Featured Actor in a Play
Michael Aronov, Oslo
Danny DeVito, The Price
Nathan Lane, The Front Page
Richard Thomas, The Little Foxes
John Douglas Thompson, Jitney

Lane was the front-runner early in the season, but since has been in London, he hasn’t been around to make the campaign events.  Though Aronov has his supporters DANNY DEVITO steals the play and will likely take home the trophy.

 

Featured Actress in a Play
Johanna Day, Sweat
Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes
Condola Rashad, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Michelle Wilson, Sweat

The Sweat and Doll’s House ladies likely cancel each other out.  CYNTHIA NIXON is likely to add a “Fox” Tony next to her “Rabbit” Tony.

 

Featured Actor in a Musical
Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen
Andrew Rannells, Falsettos
Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

Creel, Rannells and Uranowitz are all well-liked, previous nominees.  Steele gives a flashy performance that has “award-winning” written all over it.  But it looks like Tony may be saying “Hello” to GAVIN CREEL

 

Featured Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
Jenn Colella, Come From Away
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

Previous nominees Baldwin and Peil do not appear to be in the mix this year.  The race seems to be between Jones and Colella in what could either be a harbinger of the Best Musical winner or a consolation prize.  Block is poised to be the spoiler in a category that often has spoilers.  The ever-so-slight edge seems to go to JENN COLELLA who has been a game campaigner (and been assisted by her real life counterpart).

 

Direction of a Play
Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jitney
Bartlett Sher, Oslo
Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

 A case could be made for any of these. At one point Taichman seemed like the frontrunner. Of late, it seems to be a race between Santiago-Hudson and Sher, revival vs. play.  The fact that Jitney is still so memorable several months after it closed is a testament to Santiago-Hudson’s deft work.  It looks like RUBEN SANTIAGO-HUDSON may add a second August Wilson-related Tony to his collection, this time for directing.

 

Direction of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen
Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day
Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

Good to see Jerry Zaks back in the nominee list for the first time in 22 years.  He and previous winner Warchus will likely remain seated tonight.  Though there is a sense that Greif is overdue for a Tony win (and it has been 21 years since his first nomination), RACHEL CHAVKIN has the advantage for her work steering “Great Comet” over the years and transforming it into a Broadway scale show while shattering a proscenium-bound house.

 

Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day
Kelly Devine, Come From Away
Denis Jones, Holiday Inn
Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Usually this award goes to either the juggernaut show or the “danciest” show.  Bandstand and Holiday Inn were the two dance shows of the season.  While there is a sense that Pinkleton might win for his working keeping all the Russians moving throughout “Great Comet,” it will most likely be Andy Blankenbuehler picking up his second consecutive (and third overall) Tony for his wartime era dance moves.

 

Book of a Musical
Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Danny Rubin, Groundhog Day
Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away

As with Best Musical, it really is a race between “Evan” and “Come.”  There is some thought that Sankoff and Hein might pick this up as a consolation prize, and for creating an appropriate narrative around a 9/11 story.  But Levenson has constructed a book which generates sympathy for a character that could be easily disliked.  With a bullet, the Tony goes to STEVEN LEVENSON.

 

Original Score
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Tim Minchin, Groundhog Day
Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen
Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away

None of the scores are as memorable as last year’s winner Hamilton.  But then, in the 21st century, few of the musicals are “hummable.”  Pasek and Paul have contributed an emotionally powerful but accessible score with pathos and humor (though the same could be said of Sankoff and Hein—except that their score is a bit more pedestrian).  The fact that BENJ PASEK & JUSTIN PAUL are riding the crest of La La Land laurels should deliver them to Tony land.

 

Orchestrations
Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand
Larry Hochman, Hello, Dolly!
Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

This category is always hard to predict unless there is a mega-juggernaut.  Malloy could be recognized here for his work in all three categories in which he is nominated.  Elliott & Rassen made the Big Band era come alive in a Broadway show.  Lacamoire could be a back-to-back winner.  But my money is on LARRY HOCHMAN, since Herman’s tuneful score is not eligible.

 

Scenic Design of a Play
David Gallo, Jitney
Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page
Michael Yeargan, Oslo

Yeargan’s set is simplicity; Schmidt’s is overstuffed.  Gallo created a seedy 1970s Pittsburgh. But I think the Tonys will go right for NIGEL HOOK’s self-destructive set.

 

Scenic Design of a Musical
Rob Howell, Groundhog Day
David Korins, War Paint
Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

MIMI LIEN turned a proscenium house into an interactive environmental wonderland.  The Tony goes to her.

 

Costume Design of a Play

Jane Greenwood, The Little Foxes
Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter
Toni-Leslie James, Jitney
David Zinn, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Please let this be the year that JANE GREENWOOD finally wins a competitive Tony.  It HAS been 52 years since her first nomination after all.  Plus her costumes were spot-on and gorgeous.

 

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Linda Cho, Anastasia
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Catherine Zuber, War Paint

While the always reliable (and worthy of recognition) Santo Loquasto may well pick up the Tony for Dolly—the costume design Tony often goes to shows about fashion.  CATHERINE ZUBER has a field day with her clothing for War Paint, and I think that may be the ticket for her to get another Tony.

 

Lighting Design of a Play
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Jane Cox, Jitney
Donald Holder, Oslo
Jennifer Tipton, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Lighting plays a key role in the action of Indecent.  I think that will be why CHRISTOPHER AKERLIND will win the Tony.

 

Lighting Design of a Musical
Howell Binkley, Come From Away
Natasha Katz, Hello, Dolly!
Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Japhy Weideman, Dear Evan Hansen

While I would love to see former Arkansas Rep lighting designer Japhy Weideman pick up his first Tony tonight, I think the multitude of lightbulbs and light fixtures of “Great Comet” will push BRADLEY KING into the winner’s circle.


Little Rock Look Back: SOUTH PACIFIC opens on Broadway 68 years ago today

Sixty-eight years ago today, a fictional Little Rock heroine took the stage of a Broadway megahit when South Pacific opened at the Majestic Theatre on April 7, 1949. It settled in for a run of 1925 performances. Based on the James Michener Pulitzer Prize winning novel Tales of the South Pacific, it featured a book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, songs by Richard Rodgers and Hammerstein and direction by Logan. It was produced by Rodgers, Hammerstein, Logan and Leland Hayward. Set in the titular islands, it concerned the relationships of sailors, nurses, island natives and other island inhabitants.

The musical starred recent Tony winner Mary Martin as Little Rock native Nellie Forbush, opera star Ezio Pinza, stage veterans Myron McCormick and Juanita Hall, and stage newcomers William Tabbert and Betta St. John. Cloris Leachman was Martin’s understudy and would later succeed her in the part of Little Rock native Nellie Forbush.

Like other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, this show tackled tough themes – this one being prejudice. That did not set well with some theatergoers. Indeed, some potential investors did not put money into the show because of its stance. But Rodgers, Hammerstein, Logan and Hayward persisted. Their diligence paid off when the musical received the 1950 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, only the second musical to receive this designation. It is also the only Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner to be based on Pulitzer Prize winning source material. This was the first Rodgers & Hammerstein musical to not feature big dance numbers. In fact, there was no choreographer. The dance steps which existed were created by Martin, who had taught dance in her native Texas as a young mother.

Opening late in the season, South Pacific was named the 1949 New York Drama Critics Circle Best Musical, but was not part of the Tony Awards until 1950. (Though Jo Mielziner, who designed the set for South Pacific received a Tony for his set designs of shows during the 1948-49 season and South Pacific was one of the titles listed.) At the 1950 Tonys, it received six Tony Awards (sometimes listed as eight because Book and Score were not broken separate from Best Musical that year—but some sources incorrectly separate them.) It was named Best Musical, Actor in a Musical (Pinza), Actress in a Musical (Martin), Featured Actor in a Musical (McCormick), Featured Actress in a Musical (Hall), and Director (Logan). This is the only time that all four acting awards in the musical category went to performers in the same production. In fact, the other two acting trophies that year were incorrectly engraved as being from South Pacific out of habit.

Logan’s win was also the first time that the Director Tony went for a musical, since at the time that award was not separated out among plays and musicals. Hall was the first African American to win a Tony Award for Acting. Martin would reunite with Hayward, Rodgers & Hammerstein ten years later for The Sound of Music. Pinza and Tabbert reunited in 1954 for Fanny which would be the final Broadway credit for each gentleman. McCormick stayed with the show the entire run, except for vacations.

In 1999 for the 50th anniversary and in 2008 for the opening of the first Broadway revival remaining cast members from the original production had reunions in New York City. At the 50th anniversary ceremony, a proclamation from Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey was read declaring it South Pacific day in Little Rock and honoring the show. It is interesting to note that in 1949, there were two heroines on the Broadway stage from Little Rock: Nellie Forbush from South Pacificand Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

In 2008, Lincoln Center Theatre produced the first revival of South Pacific on Broadway. It opened on April 3, just four days shy of the musical’s 59th anniversary.  The cast was led by Paulo Szot, Kelli O’Hara (as Little Rock girl Nellie Forbush), Matthew Morrison (before “Glee”), Danny Burstein and Loretta Ables Sayre.  The production restored a song which had been written for the original Broadway production that had been dropped. “My Girl Back Home” was featured in the movie version and in this Broadway revival. In it O’Hara and Morrison sang of their hometowns of Little Rock and Philadelphia.  The production was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won 7: Best Musical Revival, Actor in a Musical (Szot), Director of a Musical (Bartlett Sher), Scenic Design (Michael Yeargan), Costume Design (Catherine Zuber), Lighting Design (Donald Holder) and Sound Design (Scott Lehrer).


TARTAN DAY Little Rock Look Back: BRIGADOON comes to Robinson

April 6 is Tartan Day – a chance to pay tribute to the achievements of Scots in the U.S.  It is also a good chance to wear plaid.

On January 17 and 18, 1951, the Broadway musical Brigadoon materialized at Robinson Memorial Auditorium for its first visit to Little Rock.  This musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe is a Scottish fantasy about a town that materializes for one day every 100 years.

First performed on Broadway in 1947, it was revived at New York City Center in 1950. It was that production that toured in 1951 to Little Rock.  The production was produced by John Yorke (who had worked on the original Broadway production) and brought to Little Rock by Metropolitan Attractions.

The cast was led by future Tony nominee Susan Johnson.  Others in the cast were Elizabeth Early, Robert Busch, Betty Logue and Thaddeus Clancy. All had appeared at City Center, though some in different roles than on the tour.  This touring production featured the original Broadway creative team from 1947 with direction by Robert Lewis, choreography by Agnes de Mille (who won a Tony for it, at the first ceremony), scenery by future Tony winner Oliver Smith, costumes by Tony winner David Ffolkes, lighting by Peggy Clark, and orchestrations by Ted Royal.

Over the years, Brigadoon has resurfaced in Little Rock in community theatre and school productions.  But this was the first time that tartans of the MacLaren, Dalrymple, Brockie and Anderson clans first appeared in Little Rock.


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Four other musicals join THE LION KING in 2017-2018 Celebrity Attractions lineup

lion-king-ca-logoIn 2016, it was announced that Celebrity Attractions would bring The Lion King to Little Rock’s Robinson Center Performance Hall during the 2017-2018 season.

Now the dates for that show have been announced, as have the names and dates for four other musicals.

The Lion King, winner of the 1998 Tony Award for Best Musical, will play in Little Rock from April 18 through May 6, 2018.

The season will kick off with Kinky Boots, which won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical (playing October 13-15, 2017).  The 1987 Tony winning Best Musical Les Miserables returns to Little Rock from November 29 through December 3, 2017.

The stage version of Dirty Dancing will not be put in a corner, but it will be put on Robinson’s stage from March 16 to 18, 2018.  The season will conclude with Tony winning Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.  It will play from May 29 through June 3, 2018.

The remaining shows of the 2016-2017 are The Phantom of the OperaRiverdance, and Motown-The Musical.  Phantom, the 1988 Tony winner for Best Musical, plays March 8 through 19.  Riverdance‘s 20th anniversary tour plays in Little Rock from April 14 through 16.  Motown will rock Little Rock from June 21 through 25.


Black History Month – Maya Angelou and Robinson Center

1414mayaOn February 23, 1998, Maya Angelou appeared with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in a concert at Robinson Center.  The evening featured Dr. Angelou narrating Joseph Schwantner’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “New Morning for the World.”

Dr. Angelou, a former resident of Stamps, Arkansas, was not a stranger to Little Rock. She had appeared before at Wildwood Park and would later appear at the Clinton Presidential Center.

A former Poet Laureate of the United States and Tony nominated actor, she won a Grammy Award for her reading of “On the Pulse of the Morning” which had been written for the first inauguration of Bill Clinton as President of the United States.

A poet, author, educator, dancer, singer, actor, and activist, she wrote seven autobiographies. The most notable was arguably I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  Born in St. Louis, she spent part of her childhood in Arkansas before moving to California.  She led a peripatetic life both geographically and career-wise ending as a professor at Wake Forest and residing in North Carolina.  It was there that she died in May 2014.


Black History Month – PORGY & BESS at Robinson Auditorium

porgy-bess-robinsonOn December 6, 1943, one of the great love stories of the 20th Century came to Robinson Auditorium.  Cheryl Crawford’s Broadway revival of PORGY & BESS was presented for one performance.

The show was on a national tour after having played Broadway in 1942 and 1943.  The cast included Todd Duncan, who had originated the role of Porgy in 1935 and Etta Moten, for whom George and Ira Gershwin had originally written the part of Bess.  Avon Long played Sportin’ Life (as he would for much of his long career).  The Eva Jessye Choir was the chorus, as they had been for the original 1935 Broadway debut and were in the 1942 and 1943 Broadway revivals.

Conductor Alexander Smallens had been associated with the title since its 1935 debut. The design team of Herbert Andrews (settings) and Paul Du Pont (costumes) had been brought to the project in 1942 by producer Crawford.

This production of Porgy & Bess eliminated some of the singing and changed most of the recitatives to spoken dialogue. It made it less like an opera and more like conventional musical theatre.  While it may not have been true to George Gershwin’s original intent, it was financially more successful than the original production.  In fact, the Crawford version played Broadway in 1942, 1943, and 1944, with national tours after each of the stops on the Rialto.

In 1942, the cast of the revival had performed a one hour version on radio. This was recorded and released, making it one of the first original cast recordings of a Broadway production.

Based on the play by DuBose and Dorthy Heyward,  George Gershwin envisioned Porgy & Bess as an American opera. It had a libretto by DuBose Heyward, who also supplied lyrics along with George’s brother Ira.  While the original production seemed to have slightly confounded critics and audiences who were expecting something more along the lines of the breezy Gershwin shows of the 1920s and early 1930s, it has proven to be a durable title.  It fell out of favor in the 1960s and early 1970s as the Civil Rights movement was causing people to rethink the depictions of African Americans.  In 1976, the Houston Grand Opera staged a new production which restored most of Gershwin’s score and returned it squarely into the realm of opera.  This production played Broadway in 1976 (and won the 1977 Tony for Best Revival) and was revived in 1983 on Broadway.

The most recent notable production of Porgy & Bess originated at Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre in 2011.  It officially opened on Broadway in January 2012 (where Little Rock native Will Trice was one of the producers).  In addition to winning the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, it captured a Tony for Audra McDonald’s performance of Bess (Miss McDonald’s fifth Tony).


Black History Month – James Earl Jones and Robinson Center

james_earl_jones_headshotActor James Earl Jones has made several appearances in Central Arkansas over the years.  He has appeared at Robinson Center with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  On February 12, 1999, he narrated Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” and Alexander Miller’s “Let Freedom Ring” with the Symphony in a concert at Robinson Center.  (It was the 190th birthday for Lincoln.)

Born in Mississippi, he spent most of his childhood in Michigan.  After service in the Army during the Korean War, he moved to New York to study theatre.  In the late 1950s he started alternating between Broadway (where he often played a servant) and Off Broadway (where he played leading roles).  His first film appearance was in Dr. Strangelove….  From the 1960s onward he has alternated between stage, film and TV.  In the 1980s, he added voice work to his repertoire.

In 1969 and in 1987, he won Tony Awards for Actor in a Play (The Great White Hope and Fences, respectively).  His other Tony nominations have been for revivals of On Golden Pond and The Best Man.  He was nominated for an Oscar in 1970 for reprising The Great White Hope on film.  He received two Emmy Awards in 1991 – the only actor to ever win two in the same year.

In 2008, he won the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2011 he was given an Honorary Oscar.  In 2002, he was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient.

He is probably best loved for his work as the voice of Darth Vader in many of the Star Wars films as well as his voicework in The Lion King.