The last time Karen Q. Clark performed in Central Arkansas, it was in Benton’s Royal Players production of “The Music Man” as Marian the Librarian.
Three years later, now living in New York and performing in regional theater around the country, Clark is providing Little Rock’s usually amateur Weekend Theater with a first, starring in the musical “Candide,” which opens Friday, Dec. 3.
Actor’s Equity union rules required the Weekend Theater to arrange for sponsorship and sign Clark to a guest artist contract.
“I’ve never performed with them before, but I know quite a few of them involved in the show, so I feel like I’m back with dear friends,” Clark said on her way to a Thanksgiving holiday last week at her in-laws in Walnut Ridge. “This is a dream role of mine, but the challenges are that I’m a union actor now. My career has been steadily moving along. I can only perform in union shows unless we had this guest artist contract.”
Her husband, Jay, had acted with “Candide” director Andy Hall in a Royal Players show in Benton “and we’ve been friends ever since.”
Clark, who grew up in Wisconsin, and her Arkansas-bred husband moved to Benton as part of his work with the United Methodist Church as a youth minister. They had met in New York at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. While in Arkansas, Clark obtained a master’s degree in voice from Arkansas State University and taught private voice and piano lessons in Benton. She also led their church’s children’s choir.
Jay Clark still works for the national UMC in New York and at Columbia University, and also is an assistant to the producer for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows.
Since moving to New York, Clark says she’s been auditioning regularly and has performed in two shows in Sacramento and another in Tampa that were on the level of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. After the three-weekend run of “Candide,” Clark journeys to Boston to portray one of the nuns in “The Sound of Music.”
“This is new territory for them,” she said of the Weekend’s decision to hire her for “Candide” in the role of Cunegonde, the true love of the title character, played by Gabriel Washam. The musical is based on Voltaire’s satiric 1759 novel.
The Leonard Bernstein music in “Candide,” Clark said, “is just glorious.” The show will feature Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 revisions to the 1956 Broadway original.
She saw the most recent rival of the show on Broadway, which included comedienne Andrea Martin starring as the Old Lady.
“I ran into her at the stage door after another show and told her I had seen her performance,” Clark said. “We chit-chatted for a while about ‘Candide’ and she said, ‘I wish you the best of luck for your show.’ So, we have this little blessing from one of the stars from Broadway.”
She hopes to return again to Little Rock, perhaps to one day perform at the Rep. “I would love to get the chance to work there. It’s well thought of in the New York community.”
Showtimes for “Candide” are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $18 for adults and $14 for students and seniors. Call 374-3761 for reservations. On Thursday, Dec. 9, the theater will feature a special benefit performance with wine and cheese and music cabaret before the 8 p.m. show. Tickets for the benefit are $25; call the theater for reservations.