Sunday, March 4, 2018
Sometimes it's not what you know, but who you know.
When it comes to selecting and booking the rights to a theater season, Ed McClure, production chairman for Arkansas Public Theatre, knows all the "whats." After all, he's been involved in selecting shows for the nonprofit community organization since the days when stage lighting consisted of "regular bulbs in No. 10 green bean cans."
Arkansas Public Theatre:
“Sunset Boulevard” — Sept. 14-16, 20-23 & 27-30 with auditions at 7 p.m. July 31. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning masterwork of dreams and desire in the land called Hollywood includes lush, swelling standards “With One Look,” “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and “Perfect Year.”
“Things to Do in Munich” — Nov. 2-4 & 8-11 with auditions at 7 p.m. Sept. 17. Upon his arrival in Germany (circa 1974), Sheldon is confronted by a web of German bureaucracy, which leads to the confiscation, misplacement and redirection of his mother’s ashes, culminating in her remains being accidentally applied to the canvas of a beautiful Jewish painter who specializes in Holocaust imagery.
“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” — Dec. 14-16 & 20-23 with auditions at 7 p.m. Nov. 5. This delightful comedy is adapted from the best-selling young adult book and has become a holiday staple — and the tradition will continue at APT.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” — Feb. 8-10, 14-17 & 21-24, 2019, with auditions at 7 p.m. Dec. 17. The first musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to be produced for the professional stage, “Jesus Christ Superstar” has wowed audiences for over 40 years with an iconic 1970s rock score that includes “Superstar,” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Gethsemane.”
“Stupid Kid” — March 22-23 & 28-31, 2019, with auditions at 7 p.m. Feb. 11. “Stupid Kid” weaves the tale of a youngster of 14 who is wrested from his home, tried as an adult and convicted of his girlfriend’s rape and murder, a crime he swears he didn’t commit.
“A Kid Like Jake” — May 3-5 & 9-12, 2019, with auditions at 7 p.m. March 25. Daniel Pearle’s story of a husband and wife struggling to do right by their son, “A Kid Like Jake” is a study of intimacy and parenthood and the fantasies that accompany both.
“A Doll’s House, Part 2” — June 14-16 & 20-23, 2019, with auditions at 7 p.m. May 6. In the final scene of Henrik Ibsen’s groundbreaking masterwork, Nora Helmer makes the shocking decision to leave her husband and children and begin a life on her own. In Lucas Hnath’s sequel, she walks back in many years later.
“Annie” — July 26-28, Aug. 1-4 & 8-11, 2019, with auditions June 17. Based on the popular comic strip by Harold Gray, “Annie” has become a worldwide phenomenon and was the winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
INFO — 631-8988 or arkansaspublictheatre.org
But over the years, McClure has also come to know the "whos." And that -- plus the audacity to ask to do shows -- is apparent in the season announced Friday evening. He says he's calling it "Season 331/3" because APT -- which started life as Rogers Little Theatre -- is a third of the way to 100. "Who ever imagined that?" he marvels.
The coming season includes one world premiere -- Oren Safdie's "Things to Do in Munich" -- and one show in its first nonprofessional production -- Sharr White's "Stupid Kid." McClure explains that the first one came to pass because of a long-term friendship, maintained since APT premiered Safdie's "Checks and Balances" in November 2012.
"He and I correspond often, and he let me read this new play of his -- and I really, really loved it," McClure says. "So I thought, I'm going to be brave and just tell him I want to direct it. He clearly has had success in New York and elsewhere, so the fact we're getting to debut the first production of it is pretty amazing."
McClure calls the story "Kafka-esque, a black comedy that follows the journey of Sheldon Hoffman, a reclusive Jewish accountant in his 40s, as he attempts to fulfill his mother's last wishes by transporting her ashes back to Munich to be reunited with his father where he died in the holocaust."
"It's kind of a departure for him. It's a comedy with a point, and it's really funny. It moves quickly, and it's delightful but also poignant."
McClure attributes getting the rights to "Stupid Kid" to his Twitter "bromance" with playwright Sharr White.
"I just think he is one of the most brilliant writers around," he says. "We did 'The Other Place' and 'Annapurna,' and he's witty, his dialogue is crisp, and there's always a point -- usually with a twist. Anyway, I follow him on Twitter, and I've been bugging him for about a year about when 'Stupid Kid' -- what a great title! -- would be available for amateur production. Finally, I sent him a private message, and we emailed back and forth, and he said he would recommend us to his representative. And here we are, the first nonprofessional production.
"You know, I had a law professor who always said, 'It can't hurt to ask.'"
The play revolves around a man released from prison 14 years after a crime he always swore he didn't commit.
The season also includes three big musicals -- "Annie," "Sunset Boulevard" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" -- and McClure says one will be pretty traditional, the second smaller than Andrew Lloyd Webber's opulent original and the third "very slick, modern and multimedia," thanks to technical improvements at APT over the past couple of years.
But perhaps the third most-anticipated show in the season has never been on Broadway -- or on the APT stage. It has, however, been a favorite in Northwest Arkansas for at least three decades: Barbara Robinson's "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."
"I have an emotional attachment to 'Best Christmas Pageant Ever,'" McClure admits. "That was the first show that my son Zachary did outside of RLT -- at the Arts Center of the Ozarks when he was 13 or 14, maybe. He was still real little, so he played Ollie Herdman -- the youngest of the wild Herdman kids -- and I know how much he enjoyed it and what a great time he had doing it."
The comedy -- with holiday music -- revolves around a rowdy bunch of youngsters who show up for the church Christmas pageant and turn it on its head, revealing the true meaning of the holy day along the way.
"In the past 32 seasons of doing shows at APT, very often we find our younger performers have done 'Best Christmas Pageant Ever.' That show, probably more than any other, has been a holiday tradition in Northwest Arkansas for years and years," McClure says, "and even though it was at a different theater, I was sad to see it go. I think there are a lot of families that looked forward to doing that show. So we're adding it to the three-year holiday rotation of 'A Christmas Story' and now 'Best Christmas Pageant Ever' and something else."
"Putting together a season is always exciting and always nerve-racking," McClure adds. "We're not considered a regional theater, so we don't have the luxury of getting first crack at stuff when it closes on Broadway. So we just work really hard! We got 'A Doll's House, Part 2,' and I was surprised it hadn't been snatched up by somebody else. It was in the running for Tony Awards just last June!
"I think it just kind of speaks to the trajectory of APT," he concludes. "For the past five years now, we have really tried to up the ante as far as the things we select. Clearly, we've got two shows in the coming season that are modern classics, 'Annie' and 'Best Christmas Pageant Ever,' but balance that with a season that's got four shows that are essentially brand new, and it really speaks to the level of variety and diversity in our season. It's all intended to support our mission: Theater should be accessible to everyone -- both audiences and actors. We want to be as professional as we can be but not lose the sense of community that we have."
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