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2017 Spring Arts theater preview

'Driving Miss Daisy,' 'Hedwig and the Angry Inch,' 'In the Blood' and more.


'PHANTOM OF THE OPERA': Headed to Robinson Center thanks to Celebrity Attractions.
  • 'PHANTOM OF THE OPERA': Headed to Robinson Center thanks to Celebrity Attractions.

It's probably a good thing that The Arkansas Repertory Theatre's next drama, "Jar the Floor," begins and ends before Mother's Day 2017, lest lines like "Gal, I should have killed you when you was born" turn a bonding session seriously sour. Cheryl L. West's play is dark and naturalistic. It's the tale of four generations of African-American women who gather to celebrate their MaDear's 90th birthday, but end up airing long-harbored grievances. It's Gilbert McCauley's eighth time directing at The Rep; "Jar the Floor" is a play he says he's enjoyed the opportunity to direct more than once. "I get the sense that audiences enjoy it because the writing reflects an admiration for human resilience coupled with a compassion for human frailty," he said. "While it is filled with raucous and often poignant humor, the playwright, Cheryl West, says her play is also about 'making peace — with one's scars, with one's history and ... one's mother.' " "Jar the Floor" runs March 29-April 16.

That "Godspell" banner has been enticing pedestrians on the 600 block of Main Street for a while now, and it's time: The Rep is ending its season with a "big top" take on the traveling circus musical with the help of 2 Ring Circus, the aerial artists behind the effects for The Rep's production of "The Little Mermaid" last season. "I am overjoyed to be returning to The Rep ... as director of the newly conceived cirque/aerial version of 'Godspell,' a new and thought-provoking spin on an age-old story," Director Donna Drake said. Plus, isn't it rather timely to be putting on a play that reminds us about all those bits in the Christian ethos about kindness and brotherhood? "Godspell" runs May 31-June 25.

Theater in Little Rock doesn't begin and end with The Rep, of course, and while you'll find plenty of Arkansas-connected talent among The Rep's casts, locals are the mainstay of the theater community elsewhere. Here are a few highlights of the upcoming seasons in Central Arkansas at Murry's Dinner Playhouse, Argenta Community Theater, The Weekend Theater, Celebrity Attractions, The Joint Theater and Coffeehouse and The Studio Theatre. (Check our calendar listings for touring shows landing at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Reynolds Performance Hall in Conway and at the Walton Arts Center as part of Fayetteville's professional theater company, TheaterSquared.)

Murry's Dinner Playhouse turned 50 years old this year, and the company celebrated that milestone birthday with a play about a milestone birthday: "The Nerd." The Playhouse puts on Alfred Uhry's 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winner "Driving Miss Daisy," one-third of Uhry's so-called "Atlanta Trilogy," Feb. 28-March 25. Lieber and Stoller's musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe" follows, March 28-April 29. "Southern Fried Funeral," a new comedy set in New Edinburgh, Miss., from playwrights J. Dietz Osborne and Nate Eppler, is up next, May 2-27, not to be confused with "Southern Crossroads," Warner Crocker and Steve Przybylski's musical revue of Depression-era songs like "Tom Dooley" and "Keep on the Sunny Side," May 30-July 8. Rounding out the summer at Murry's is an adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz," featuring the songs of Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen made famous in the classic 1939 MGM film.

The Studio Theatre (and adjacent watering hole, The Lobby Bar) is home to what may very well be one of the most exciting productions in the city this summer: John Cameron Mitchell's and Stephen Trask's rock 'n' roll opus "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." It comes at the end of the summer, Aug. 10-20, but mark your calendars now, and in the meantime learn all the lyrics to "Wig in a Box" from the gorgeous film version , just in case a singalong is called for. More immediately, the company stages a Shakespearean favorite, the magical comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream," beating all the balmy June performances to the punch with a March 30-April 9 run. Next up, April 20-30, there's Terry Johnson's stage adaptation of the 1967 film "The Graduate," followed by "Spring Awakening," a lusty 2006 rock musical set in late 19th century Germany, a modern interpretation of the eponymous and often-censored Frank Wedekind play.

The Community Theater of Little Rock holds shows at The Studio Theatre as well, and that company is in the final days of its run of Bernard Pomerance's drama depicting the life of Joseph Merrick, "The Elephant Man," through March 12. Next, CTLR puts up a production of "Life is Short," a collection of short plays, May 11-21, followed by a finale that sounds like the title of a 1988 "Saturday Night Live" sketch — but is, in fact, an actual play — "Heathers: The Musical."

The Weekend Theater consistently brings shows to its season that tend to pop up concurrently at larger, savvy houses elsewhere — Lynn Nottage's "Intimate Apparel," for one, and that's probably most evident in TWT's season closer, Suzan-Lori Parks' "In the Blood," May 5-21, a reimagining of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," written before Parks went on to pen the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Topdog/Underdog." Right now, TWT is finishing up a run of "Titanic: The Musical," through March 12, then gearing up for a production of Maxwell Anderson's "Bad Seed," March 31-April 15, a dark drama that narrowly lost the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for Drama to "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

The Main Thing, the comedy trio over at The Joint Coffeehouse & Theater, continues its run of "Naked People With Their Clothes On" through March 25, and follows that up with "Rough Night at the Remo Room," March 31-June 17.

Celebrity Attractions brings the heralded touring production of Disney's "The Lion King" to its season in the spring of 2018, and in the meantime, is pleasing Andrew Lloyd Webber diehards with a touring run of "Phantom of the Opera," March 8-19 at Robinson Center. Celebrity Attractions also brings the 20th anniversary world tour of "Riverdance" to Robinson on April 14-16, and "Motown: The Musical," the story of famed record producer Berry Gordy, on June 21-25.

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