Entertainment » Jim Harris

Doubling up pays at UCA’s Reynolds



It’s getting where Guy Couch doesn’t have enough tickets for these trendy shows the UCA Public Appearances series brings in to the 1,200-seat Reynolds Performance Hall in Conway. Last weekend’s visit by the sensational Australia-based “Tap Dogs” — sort of a “Stomp” meets “Tap” type of Vegas-like, high-energy show — drew two full houses, and the national tour of the Broadway phenomenon “Rent” likely will sell out its two shows set for mid-March, Couch told us.

Also, there’s a big buzz for next week’s two shows of “Cirque eloize: Rain,” a tour of acrobatic circus in the style of Cirque du Soleil. “Rain” will be performed Feb. 14-15 at Reynolds.

“This year we’ve got so many new students, and we do three free shows for students and staff a year,” Couch said. “We did great with Toxic Audio in the fall, we filled up two on ‘Tap Dogs’ and I think we’re going to fill up ‘Cirque eloize: Rain.’ ”

When Couch took over the Public Appearances program in 2000, UCA had always offered the campus three free shows. When Reynolds Performance Hall opened in 2000, Couch could boost the season schedule to as many as 10 shows, with up to seven that everyone would have to purchase tickets for (though student and staff tickets are priced lowest next to a child’s ticket).

With the three free shows, Couch now has to finagle two shows out of the tour to handle the demand and still have room for the general public. Such was the case with “Tap Dogs” and alast year with Leahy, another high-energy dance show featuring Irish and country step dance from Canada. But even in other cases, such as the Ricky Skaggs show in late 2004, where even students had to pay for tickets, the demand was such that Skaggs accommodated the market with a second show.

It’s a nice problem to have.

I had wondered how “Rent” might do in Conway, with its themes of AIDS, drugs and alternative lifestyles running throughout the story and Conway being, well, Conway. But Couch now almost wishes he could get a third night from the tour.

That’s something he may look to in the future, he told us this week. “Rent” is one of the few national Broadway tours that books one- and two-night stands; most tours, such as the shows brought into Robinson Center in Little Rock by Celebrity Attractions, are three-day stops or longer, and those bookings actually cost the promoter less in the long run if he can fill the house. It’s nearly impossible for Couch to bring in a “Miss Saigon” or such without going to three shows, but the recent demand is telling him he could.

Meanwhile, I was pleasantly surprised on Friday at “Tap Dogs” to discover that 75 minutes of tap dance can be made entertaining. In a highly percussive show, the six-man troupe found increasingly impressive ways to show off their skills around props such as bouncing basketballs, showers of sparks off metal, and versatile staging and acrobatics, while a multi-instrumentalist kept the room hopping with music or drumming. There were several young children in the audience, and all (including mine) seemed entranced throughout.

The show was created in Australia by Dein Perry, and it was his brother Sheldon who starred Friday night. He and his five mates, all from North America, were also excellent in the soft-shoe style. For an art form that some may think has faded away, tap has gotten a big boost with the younger generation thanks to “Tap Dogs.” Now, the tour is split up into several teams, and apparently several hundreds of tap-dancers each year seek a rare spot on one of the international tour groups.

For tickets or more information on the UCA Public Appearances schedule, visit www.uca.edu/Reynolds on the Internet.

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