Whipping Man Wednesday: An Introduction

With The Whipping Man about to take the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage, starting Jan. 23, we are penning a new short series called “Whipping Man Wednesday” every Wednesday throughout its run.

To start our series– with the help of our dramaturg, Robert Neblett– we will take a look back at the history, synopsis and rundown of this widely produced play written by playwright Matthew Lopez.

Matthew Lopez

Matthew Lopez

History

Lopez says that The Whipping Man began as a 20-minute one-act play called “The Soldier and the Slave” many years ago. Once it developed into a full-length drama, it received its world premiere at Luna Stage in Montclair, NJ, in 2006. Since then, it has had major productions around the country, including an acclaimed West Coast premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in 2010 and an Off-Broadway production at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2011 starring André Braugher.

The play won the 2011 John Gassner New Play Award from the NY Outer Critics Circle, as well as several 2011 Lucille Lortel Awards and nominations and a 2011 Obie Award for Braugher’s performance.

Check out this video interview with Lopez about the show on Onstage here.

Michael A. Shepperd as Simon. Photo by John David Pittman.

Michael A. Shepperd as Simon. Photo by John David Pittman.

Characters

Caleb DeLeon (played by Ryan Barry*): 20s, the only son of the DeLeon family of Richmond, Virginia

Simon (played by Michael A. Shepperd*): 50s, former slave in the DeLeon home

John (played by Damian Thompson): 20s, former slave in the DeLeon home

Synopsis

On Passover, 1865, the Civil War has just ended and the annual celebration of freedom from bondage is being observed in Jewish homes across the country. One of these homes sits in ruins. As Jewish confederate officer Caleb DeLeon returns from the war, badly wounded, to find his family missing and only two former slaves remaining, Simon and John, the two men are forced to care for him.

As Caleb, Simon and John wait for the family’s return, they wrestle with their shared past as master and slave, digging up long-buried family secrets as well as new ones. With Passover upon them, the three men unite to celebrate the holiday, even as they struggle to comprehend their new relationships at a crossroads of personal and national history and to come to terms with the sordid legacies of slavery and war that threaten each of their future freedoms.

Pulled from Elf study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

Get your tickets now for this thought-provoking drama. Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Elfie Tuesday: An Intro to Elf The Musical

With Elf The Musical taking the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage, starting Wednesday, Dec. 3, we are penning a new short series called “Elfie Tuesday” every Tuesday throughout its run.

To start our series– with the help of our dramaturg, Robert Neblett– we will take a look back at the musical and what it was before became a fixture in theatre: a movie of the same name, starring Will Ferrell and James Caan!

poster1

History

After 10 years of development and pre-production, the film of Elf was finally released in November 2003, with a script by David Berenbaum and direction by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Chef). It starred Will Ferrell in his first post-Saturday Night Live role as Buddy, James Caan (The Godfather) as Walter, Zooey Deschanel (The New Girl) as Jovie, Arkansas native Mary Steenburgen (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) as Emily, Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) as Santa and Bob Newhart (The Bob Newhart Show) as Papa Elf.

They introduced the world to an unlikely new Christmas hero in the movie Elf. A contemporary fable, this comic film charmed audiences and critics alike, and Buddy the Elf soon became the unofficial mascot for the holiday season in 21st Century America.

Wide-eyed Buddy reminds us that there is still room for magic in our world of hyper-commercialism and Black Friday sales and that the most precious gift of all is the love of family.

The film opened at No. 2 at the United States Box Office and went on to gross more than $220 million worldwide.

It received relatively favorable reviews from critics and audiences for its good-natured humor and positive message. Ferrell’s childlike performance catapulted it to an audience favorite, and Buddy is now a regular fixture in Christmas decorations and holiday television offerings.

In 2010, the story took on a new dimension as it was adapted into a festive seasonal Arcelusmusical for the stage by Tony Award-winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and the Tony-nominated Matthew Sklar (The Wedding Singer and Shrek: The Musical).

Elf: The Musical broke Broadway box office records and toured the country before being snatched up by regional theatres across America, like The Rep this season!

Some differences between the film and the musical:

  • Papa Elf’s (Bob Newhart) role as the film’s narrator is replaced by Santa Claus onstage.
  • Buddy does get a job in the mailroom at the publishing house.
  • The snowball fight that endears Michael to Buddy is replaced by a science project onstage.
  • The role of temperamental author Miles Finch (played by Peter Dinklage), whom Buddy mistakes as an elf, is excised.
  • The musical does not reference the apocalyptic Central Park Rangers, who chase Santa’s sleigh in the movie.

Pulled from Elf study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

Great seats are available for Elf after Christmas. Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Memphis Monday: A Historical Look at Memphis The Musical

The premiere of Memphis The Musical is fast approaching and to highlight some of the cool aspects of the show, we’ll be doing a short series called “Memphis Monday” every Monday through Sept. 22.

Before fans feast their eyes on the high-energy regional premiere of the show, it’s important to showcase where it all started and where it’s going, not to mention its collection of awards it has gathered along the way.

Robert L. Neblett, an expert in American theatre, has prepared an educational study guide to accompany students for special student matinee performances of Memphis The Musical, which includes a historical look of the production:

History

Memphis: The Musical was originally developed at the North Shore Music Festival in Massachusetts and TheatreWorks in California in 2003-04, and subsequently staged at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego in 2008 and Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre in 2009.

memphis

Chad Kimball (far right) played Memphis DJ Huey Calhoun in the original Broadway production of Memphis The Musical, starting in 2009.

The musical opened on Broadway in October 2009, where it played for over 1,100 performances before closing in 2012. In late 2011, the actor playing Huey Calhoun, Chad Kimball, left the musical’s cast due to an injury, and was replaced by Adam Pascal, best known for starring in the original Broadway casts of Rent and Tim Rice and Elton John’s Aida.

In 2011-13, the producers mounted a successful national tour of the musical.

The original Broadway production was filmed in high-definition for a limited digital cinema release in 2011, after which it was released on DVD.

Memphis: The Musical will open in London’s West End in late 2014.

Awards

Memphis was nominated for 8 and won 4 Tony Awards (celebrating the best in Broadway theatre) in 2010, including:memphis-the-musical

BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL: Joe DiPietro

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Joe DiPietro and David Bryan

BEST ORCHESTRATIONS: Daryl Waters and David Bryan

BEST MUSICAL

Memphis won 4 Drama Desk Awards (celebrating the best in theatre throughout New York City, on Broadway and off), including:

OUTSTANDING MUSIC: David Bryan

OUTSTANDING ORCHESTRATIONS: David Bryan and Daryl Waters

BEST MUSICAL

It also won 4 Outer Critics’ Circle Awards, including:

BEST SCORE: David Bryan and Joe DiPietro

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY: Sergio Trujillo

BEST MUSICAL

Don’t miss your chance to see this award-winning musical take The Rep stage Sept. 5-28! Get your tickets to show- single tickets are available now! Purchase online here and get more information about the show–including special events– here.

Rebellious Inspiration: Les Miserables

1870 illustration of the Paris Uprising

1870 illustration of the Paris Uprising

Article written by Robert Neblett, Les Miserables Dramaturg

One of the central historical events of the novel and the musical of Les Misérables is the 1832 street battle of the barricades. Many people mistake this rebellion as part of the French Revolution, which actually occurred more than 30 years prior.

Marius, Enjolras, Grantaire, and the other student revolutionaries of the ABC (abaissé) Café are fictional characters invented by Hugo. The Paris Uprising of June 5-6, 1832, also known as the June Rebellion, is historical fact. Hugo’s 1862 novel looks back in time 30 years to a period of social and political turmoil that pitted rich against poor, royalist versus republican, and inexperienced students versus the national guard.

Many catalysts set in motion the events that would erupt in this battle in the streets of Paris. Having never truly recovered from the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror which followed, food shortages and disease had spread through the slums of Paris after the decline of the Bonaparte Empire, which widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Several claims to the French throne sparked public debate over the legitimacy of the monarchy of King Louis-Phillipe.

However, the spark that set off the powder keg of public outrage was when General Jean Maximilien Lamarque died on June 1, 1932. Lamarque had been sympathetic to the poor and working classes, but the royalists attempted to hijack his funeral for their own political agenda. Groups of students and workers saw Lamarque’s death as a call to arms and his funeral as a perfect opportunity to make a public statement. Protestors seized his funeral carriage and diverted the funeral procession into the Place de la Bastille.

National guardsman shot into the crowd, causing a riot, during which barricades of furniture and crates and wagons were constructed to protect the protestors from the gunfire of the military. In the end, the 3,000 revolutionaries were no match for the 40,000 militia and army soldiers. 93 insurrectionists were killed, and the June Rebellion became a potent symbol for the growing republican cause, which ultimately resulted in the overthrow of the king in 1848.

Victor Hugo and Les Miserables

Author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Article written by Robert Neblett, Les Misérables Dramaturg

Victor Hugo (1802-85) was a French poet, novelist, and playwright. He is most commonly associated with the Romantic movement of literature and art in 19th century Europe. Romanticism rejected the scientific goals of the Industrial Revolution and idealized heightened emotion, dreams, nature, a belief in the supernatural, and the superior role of the imagination in the creation of art and literature. The Romantics often reached back into the distant past for inspiration and rejected rules, tradition, and conventions that governed “proper” forms of art, such as those mandated by the French Academy, an intellectual and cultural organization dedicated to formalizing French language and literature.

Victor was the son of a military officer and moved frequently, which allowed him to see much of France and Europe. The early years of his life were filled with political and personal turmoil. Shortly after he was born, Napoléon Bonaparte was named Emperor of France, and Hugo’s childhood was marked by a period of violent political upheaval throughout the country. He secretly married Adèle Foucher when he was 19 years old, and they had several children. When his daughter Léopoldine drowned in 1843, he was devastated.

In 1830, his play Hernani incited riots among its audiences. Prior to its performance, French playwrights were required to adhere to the Neoclassical unities of place, time, and action in their dramatic writing. These rules basically meant that a play’s action must occur in a single venue, take place over a span of time no longer than 24 hours, and must follow a single main plot with no subplots. Hernani defied all of these conventions when it premiered at the Comedie Française in Paris and caused public outrage. Historians have discovered that much of this outrage was manipulated and manufactured by both Hugo and his opponents, the riots becoming acts of theatre in themselves.

In 1841, Hugo became a member of the French Academy, hoping to change its traditional values from within. After several years of open criticism of political leaders in France, he left the country in a period of self-appointed exile from 1851-1870. While in exile in England, he wrote many of his most popular works, including Les Misérables.

When he returned to France in 1870, he was considered a national hero. He became active in politics during the final years of his life. When he died from pneumonia in 1885, over two million people attended his funeral. He was buried in the Panthéon, along with the leading thinkers of his time.

Other novels by Hugo include:

Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) – also known as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The publication of Hugo’s novel would ultimately shame the civic leaders of Paris to restore the cathedral and renew an interest in medieval architecture throughout the city.

Quatre-vingt-treize (1874) – recounts the story of the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution.

Victor Hugo and Les Miserables

Author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Author of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Article written by Robert Neblett, Les Misérables Dramaturg

Victor Hugo (1802-85) was a French poet, novelist, and playwright. He is most commonly associated with the Romantic movement of literature and art in 19th century Europe. Romanticism rejected the scientific goals of the Industrial Revolution and idealized heightened emotion, dreams, nature, a belief in the supernatural, and the superior role of the imagination in the creation of art and literature. The Romantics often reached back into the distant past for inspiration and rejected rules, tradition, and conventions that governed “proper” forms of art, such as those mandated by the French Academy, an intellectual and cultural organization dedicated to formalizing French language and literature.

Victor was the son of a military officer and moved frequently, which allowed him to see much of France and Europe. The early years of his life were filled with political and personal turmoil. Shortly after he was born, Napoléon Bonaparte was named Emperor of France, and Hugo’s childhood was marked by a period of violent political upheaval throughout the country. He secretly married Adèle Foucher when he was 19 years old, and they had several children. When his daughter Léopoldine drowned in 1843, he was devastated.

In 1830, his play Hernani incited riots among its audiences. Prior to its performance, French playwrights were required to adhere to the Neoclassical unities of place, time, and action in their dramatic writing. These rules basically meant that a play’s action must occur in a single venue, take place over a span of time no longer than 24 hours, and must follow a single main plot with no subplots. Hernani defied all of these conventions when it premiered at the Comedie Française in Paris and caused public outrage. Historians have discovered that much of this outrage was manipulated and manufactured by both Hugo and his opponents, the riots becoming acts of theatre in themselves.

In 1841, Hugo became a member of the French Academy, hoping to change its traditional values from within. After several years of open criticism of political leaders in France, he left the country in a period of self-appointed exile from 1851-1870. While in exile in England, he wrote many of his most popular works, including Les Misérables.

When he returned to France in 1870, he was considered a national hero. He became active in politics during the final years of his life. When he died from pneumonia in 1885, over two million people attended his funeral. He was buried in the Panthéon, along with the leading thinkers of his time.

Other novels by Hugo include:

Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) – also known as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The publication of Hugo’s novel would ultimately shame the civic leaders of Paris to restore the cathedral and renew an interest in medieval architecture throughout the city.

Quatre-vingt-treize (1874) – recounts the story of the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution.

 

About the Playwright: Bruce Norris

Bruce NorrisBruce Norris is an American actor and playwright. On April 18, 2011, Norris was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Clybourne Park (2010). The Prize committee citation described the play as “a powerful work whose memorable characters speak in witty and perceptive ways to America’s sometimes toxic struggle with race and class consciousness.”

Prior to its Pulitzer reception, the play won the Olivier Prize for “Best New Play” following its premiere at New York’s Playwrights Horizons.

After graduating from Northwestern University in 1982 with a degree in theatre, Norris set out to become an actor. He performed at Victory Gardens Theater, the Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre and on Broadway. His Broadway credits include David Hirson’s Wrong Mountain, Wendy Wasserstein’s An American Daughter, and Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues.

Norris’ verbally dexterous and fast-paced dramas are reminiscent of Edward Albee’s comically tragic plays, which contemplate the complexities of the American psyche and the family dynamic.

Arkansas Rep’s production of Clybourne Park opens on January 24 and runs through February 9, 2014. For more information. visit http://www.therep.org/attend/productions/ClybournePark.

History of Little Rock Neighborhoods Topic of Preshow Talks

Join Clybourne Park Director Cliff Fannin Baker, Jess Porter and John Kirk from the UALR History Department and Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp to learn how Clybourne Park relates to issues of race, property, history and legacy in our own communities.

Slum Areasweb

(Maps provided by Jess Porter, Department of History, UALR)

January 22 and 23 | 6:15 – 6:45 p.m. | Clybourne Park curtain at 7:00 p.m.

Purchase tickets online or call The Rep Box Office at (501) 378-0405. Tickets include both the pre-show talk and the performance of Clybourne Park at 7:00 p.m.

Before He Was Rothko

Joseph Graves at Mark Rothko and Chris Wendelken as Ken

Joseph Graves as Mark Rothko and Chris Wendelken as Ken in Arkansas Rep’s production of Red, October 25-November 10.

Mark Rothko’s Life

“Real identity is incompatible with schools and categories, except by mutilation.” 

Marcus Rothkowitz was only ten years old in 1913 when he arrived in the United States.   His father, Jacob, had emigrated from Russia three years before, but died only six months following the arrival of his family.  Rothkowitz spent the next several years in Portland, Oregon, where he took art classes and taught himself to play the mandolin and piano, fostering a love of art and music that would flourish throughout the rest of his life.  In 1921, Rothkowitz left to attend Yale University.

Though he was a stellar student in philosophy, math, and literature, among other things, Rothkowitz left Yale without a degree and headed to New York City.  Shortly thereafter, he began taking art classes at the Art Students League.   In 1925-6, he studied with Max Weber, a modernist who experimented with Cubism, Fauvism, Futurism, and eventually, Expressionism.  Weber was one of many artists (such as Milton Avery and Matisse) who inspired Rothko to question realism.

Rothko exhibited his first group art show with fellow students in 1928.  In 1929, he began teaching children at the Center Academy of Brooklyn Jewish Center (a position he held for 23 years).  Three years later, he married Edith Sachar.  During the next few years, Rothkowitz continued to show his art and teach classes.  In 1935, he was part of forming an artistic group known as “The Ten,” whose interest was in expressionism and experimentation.  The group dissolved in 1939, one year after Rothko became an American citizen.  By 1940, Rothkowitz had changed his name to Mark Rothko (not legally making the change until 1959).  In 1944, his marriage to Sachar ended in divorce.  He married Mell Beistle the next year.  Together they had two children, Kate and Christopher.  In 1961, he opened a show at the Museum of Modern Art, becoming the first living member of his generation to have a one-man show at the museum.

When Rothko suffered an aortic aneurysm in 1968, he was already battling liver problems and depression.  The next year he was diagnosed with emphysema, and his marriage was in distress.  Mark Rothko took his own life on February 25, 1970.  The Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX was dedicated the next year.  Despite (or perhaps due to) his physical and psychological challenges, Rothko produced a remarkable body of work—somber, muted, and dark in tone—in the last two years of his life.

How Puppets Became the Hottest Ticket on Broadway

An earnest, recent college graduate with no sense of direction, Princeton is a fresh-faced fellow looking for his purpose in life.

An earnest, recent college graduate with no sense of direction, Princeton is a fresh-faced fellow looking for his purpose in life.

Avenue Q songwriters Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez coincidentally met in a subway station in New York City one day before beginning classes at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. The duo began writing music and created one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history.

In an effort to create a musical that would interest audiences who were not usually captivated by musicals, Marx and Lopez set out to write an entirely unique project. After months of kicking around ideas, they stumbled upon a concept perfect for 20-something audiences.

The idea was to take entertainment and surround it in a familiar medium, like Sesame Street. This “Friends” meets Sesame Street approach to musical theatre allowed Marx and Lopez to write songs that spoke to the obstacles young audiences face, like navigating life after college, relationship problems, paying rent and finding a life outside your apartment.

In May of 2000 at the York Theatre, Marx and Lopez held the first reading of Avenue Q for potential producers. Among the audience members were Robyn Goodman, producer of “One Life to Live,” and Kevin McCollum and Jeff Seller, the producers of Rent. All three were impressed with the fresh take on approaching the adult themes and ideas through a children’s television format: puppets. Goodman, McCollum and Seller signed on the project immediately.

In August of 2001, Marx and Lopez hired young actor-turned playwright Jeff Whitty to create a storyline for each of the characters. After many revisions, Avenue Q ran Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre from March through May, 2003.

On July 31, 2003, Avenue Q opened on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre. Nominated for six Tony’s in 2004, Avenue Q won three Tony’s including Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical and beat Wicked for Best Musical, evenutally becoming one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history.

Photo by John David Pittman. © Copyright 2013 Arkansas Repertory Theatre. All rights reserved. Avenue Q has not been authorized or approved by the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop, which have no responsibility for its content.