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4-show season set as part of Little Rock's Arkansas Repertory Theatre's revival effort

Nov 14, 2018

Chicago leads off in Mainstage lineup by Eric E. Harrison | Nov 14, 2018


The Arkansas Repertory Theatre on Tuesday announced it will offer a four-show season to spearhead its attempt to return from the brink of nonexistence.


Board Chairman Ruth Shepherd and interim General Manager Bill Rector unveiled the 2019 Mainstage lineup at a "special reveal party" Tuesday at the theater, at Sixth and Main streets in Little Rock, the pivot point of the city's downtown "creative corridor."

The season will open Feb. 19-March 24 with the Kander and Ebb musical Chicago.

The season in general and Chicago in particular reflected the work of Repertory Theatre founder Cliff Baker, who died Sept. 6 in New York just a week shy of his 71st birthday.

Baker had stepped back into the spotlight as interim artistic adviser and was part of the troika, with Shepherd and Rector, that was the Rep's public face as the nonprofit theater tried to get back on its fiscal and artistic feet. The board had declared April 24 that it was suspending operations, canceling the final production of the 2017-18 season and the entire 2018-19 season because of critical cash-flow problems.

"Cliff's fingerprints were all over this season," Shepherd said, noting that Baker had been trying to get the rights to Chicago for at least a decade but had been stymied because of Broadway revivals and a recently wrapped-up national tour.

Ron Hutchins, whose Rep credits as a director and/or choreographer include 2010's Smokey Joe's Cafe; 2007's Hello, Dolly!; and 2005's Beauty and the Beast, will choreograph and replace Baker as the director. Michael Rice, also a familiar name out of the Rep's past, will be the musical director.

The season will also include:

• April 16-May 5: Native Gardens, a new play by Karen Zacarias that questions whether, in fact, good fences make good neighbors. The laissez-faire gardening style of a young Latin couple (a lawyer for a big firm and his pregnant wife) brings them afoul of their white neighbors, whose garden is carefully manicured.

• Sept. 3-Oct. 6: Million Dollar Quartet, which was originally scheduled to close out the 2018-19 lineup that previous artistic director John Miller-Stephany had presented in February. The show, which has been through Little Rock on tour, focuses on the Dec. 4, 1956, Sun Records recording session that brought Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins together with producer Sam Philips. Hunter Foster, who originated the role of Philips on Broadway, will direct.

• Dec. 3-22: A radio-play version of It's a Wonderful Life, based on the 1946 film classic that starred Jimmy Stewart.

The Rep stage will also host:

• Opera in the Rock's previously announced production of Giacomo Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly, May 17-19, with members of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in the pit.

• The Education Classes and Junior Mainstage Show, Willy Wonka Jr., June 21-30, featuring a company of local actors 18 and younger.

• The Saints & Sinners fundraiser, either Oct. 19 or Nov. 2. The annual gala has been a huge moneymaker for the Rep, Shepherd said, outdrawing all but one stage production over the past two years.

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