Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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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.


Happy Birthday to PHANTOM – 6 weeks until it arrives in Little Rock

The-Phantom-of-the-Opera-North-American-Tour (1)29 years ago today, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA opened on Broadway.  It is still going strong at the Majestic Theatre.

Of course, Little Rock theatregoers will not have to wait much longer to see PHANTOM at the new Robinson Center Performance Hall.  It will be here from March 8-19. Producer Cameron Mackintosh’s spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenal musical success, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, will come to Little Rock as part of a brand new North American Tour.

The production will be the largest musical to play in the building ever.  It will eclipse Beauty and the Beast and Wicked, which both have played at Robinson twice.

The musical, based on a novel by Gaston Leroux, features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book & lyrics by Charles Hart, Richard Stilgoe and Mr. Lloyd Webber.  The production was produced by Cameron Mackintosh and directed by Harold Prince.

After opening in London in 1986, The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in January 1988. It is still running over 27 years later. Phantom is the longest running show in Broadway history.  Nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 1988, it won seven: Best Musical, Actor in a Musical (Michael Crawford), Featured Actress in a Musical (Judy Kaye), Director of a Musical (Harold Prince), Scenic Design (Maria Bjornson), Costume Design (Bjornson) and Lighting Design (Andrew Bridge).

Hailed by critics as “bigger and better than ever before,” this production boasts many exciting special effects including the show’s legendary chandelier, new scenic and lighting designs, new staging and choreography. The beloved story and thrilling score will be performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this PHANTOM one of the largest productions now on tour.

Celebrity Attractions is bringing PHANTOM to Little Rock.  Ticket information can be found here.


This weekend – ELF the Musical at Robinson Center

Broadway returns to Robinson Center with Elf, The Musical today, December 3, and tomorrow, December 4.  There will be four performances of this Sparklejollytwinklejingley musical!

ELF is the hilarious tale of Buddy, a young orphan child who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. Unaware that he is actually human, Buddy’s enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth. With Santa’s permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity, and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas. This modern day Christmas classic is sure to make everyone embrace their inner ELF.

Produced by NETworks Presentations, LLC and WarnerBros. Theatre Ventures, Elf features songs by Tony Award nominees Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), with a book by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone).  The production features direction by Sam Scalamoni and choreography by Connor Gallagher.

The New York Times says that ELF is “SPLASHY, PEPPY, SUGAR-SPRINKLED HOLIDAY ENTERTAINMENT!” USA Today calls ELF, “ENDEARINGLY GOOFY!” Variety proclaims, “ELF is happy enough for families, savvy enough for city kids and plenty smart for adults!”

Performances are at 3pm and 8pm today and at 2pm and 7pm tomorrow.  ELF is brought to Little Rock by Celebrity Attractions.


This month at The Studio Theatre – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

tst-batb-11x17The Studio Theatre invites audiences to be their guest at the musical Beauty and the Beast this December.

The production opened last night ant runs through December 18.

Beauty and the Beast is directed by Mark Burbank, with music direction by Jeannie Cross, and choreography by Stacy Hawking. Beauty and the Beast was Disney Theatrical’s first Broadway production. It won a 1994 Tony Award for costume design and a 1998 Olivier for Best New Musical.

With music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and book by Linda Woolverton, it was adapted from Walt Disney Pictures’ Academy Award-winning 1991 animated musical film of the same name – which in turn had been based on the classic French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.  Beauty and the Beast tells the story of a cold-hearted prince who has been magically transformed into an unsightly creature as punishment for his selfish ways. To revert back into his true human form, the Beast must first earn the love of a bright, beautiful young woman whom he has imprisoned in his enchanted castle before it is too late.

Performances are Thursdays through Sundays.  Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances (December 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17) will begin at 7:30pm and Sunday matinees (December 4, 11, 18) will begin at 2:30pm.  Tickets are $25.00 for general admission, $20.00 for Seniors (65+), Military, and Students. Tickets are $15.00 for children 12 and under.   There are no assigned seats at The Studio Theatre.