Dick­ens, Sond­heim on Ar­genta stage’s ex­panded list

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - ERIC E. HAR­RI­SON

The Ar­genta Com­mu­nity Theater is dou­bling the num­ber of pro­duc­tions on its 2017-2018 sea­son, to in­clude two mu­si­cals, two “straight” shows and an awards cer­e­mony hon­or­ing lo­cal folks who have con­trib­uted to the per­form­ing arts.

The on­stage of­fer­ings open with a Dec. 14-23 pro­duc­tion of A Christ­mas Carol. Lit­tle Rock play­wright Judy Goss is adapt­ing Charles Dick­ens’ clas­sic into a new stage ver­sion that pro­duc­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor Vin­cent In­salaco wants to turn into a peren­nial for his theater at 405 Main St., in North Lit­tle Rock’s Ar­genta Dis­trict.

“The Dick­ens book is in the pub­lic do­main,” In­salaco says. “There are, like, 63 ver­sions out there.”

He’s turn­ing to Goss, who adapted the 1942 MGM clas­sic film Mrs. Miniver for a world-pre­miere stage pro­duc­tion that de­buted two years ago, to put her spin on the tale.

It’ll fea­ture pe­riod in­ci­den­tal mu­sic and un­der­scor­ing — “Think the Alis­tair Sim [1951 film] ver­sion,” he says — and the set and cos­tumes will go into stor­age so the show can be pre­sented an­nu­ally, per­haps as the cen­ter­piece of a Christ­mas fes­ti­val, and de­signed so the show could con­ceiv­ably tour.

In keep­ing with In­salaco’s fo­cus — pick­ing shows that haven’t been done in the area for as long as a gen­er­a­tion — he has sched­uled Stephen Sond­heim’s Fol­lies for March 7-17. “It’s a hard show,” he says. Sond­heim’s songs are no­to­ri­ously hard to sing and Fol­lies hasn’t been done in Lit­tle Rock since a Week­end Theater con­cert ver­sion in July 1996.

(The con­nec­tion be­tween the songs: A col­lec­tion of for­mer mu­si­cal stars pays nos­tal­gic trib­ute to a ram­shackle New York theater due for the wreck­ing ball.)

A pro­duc­tion of To Kill a Mock­ing­bird, April 18-28, will be one of the last be­fore a new adap­ta­tion of Harper Lee’s novel — by screen­writer Aaron Sorkin — de­buts on Broad­way. The orig­i­nal stage adap­ta­tion was writ­ten in 1970 by Christo­pher Sergel. In­salaco says he’s con­tracted to use that ver­sion, which “uses all the lan­guage,” in­clud­ing the so-called “N-word.”

And the sum­mer mu­si­cal, July 18-28, 2018, closes a sea­son full of po­lit­i­cal mes­sages with Big River (mu­sic and lyrics by Roger Miller, book by Wil­liam Haupt­man, adapted from Mark Twain’s The Ad­ven­tures of Huck­le­berry Finn).

Au­di­tions for A Christ­mas Carol take place, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 16; for Fol­lies, 1-4 p.m. Sept. 17. For the for­mer, au­di­tions will on­sist of read­ings from the script via pre­vi­ously avail­able “sides” and/ or cold read­ings. For Fol­lies, pre­pare 20 bars of a song that show­cases your vo­cal range. It can be from the show or should have “the same feel.” There will also be cold read­ings from the script and a dance work­shop. Reg­is­ter in

ad­vance at cast­ing@ar­gen­ta­com­mu­ni­tythe­ater.com.

The sea­son sched­ule also in­cludes the third an­nual “Dance Im­pact” con­cert, March 31, a col­lab­o­ra­tion of pro­fes­sional and col­lege dance com­pa­nies, and the an­nual “Act­ing Up” sum­mer per­form­ing arts camp, cov­er­ing act­ing, danc­ing, film and, for the first time, singing, June 11-22.

And In­salaco is plan­ning the in­au­gu­ral “Dark Night” din­ner, Sept. 18, “hon­or­ing our own,” as he puts it, with awards for mem­bers of the area per­form­ing arts com­mu­nity and fo­cus­ing pri­mar­ily on “all th­ese peo­ple who do­nate their time” to con­certs and pro­duc­tions. Stage, film and

com­mer­cial ac­tress Candyce Hin­kle will be the master of cer­e­monies. The cer­e­mony will al­ways take place on a Mon­day night, when most the­aters are, in the par­lance of the busi­ness, “dark.” At­ten­dees can feel free to come in the­atri­cal cos­tumes.

In­salaco says the event will honor three or four peo­ple a year and his goal is to see it even­tu­ally out­grow his theater.

He says there isn’t enough at­ten­tion paid to the role of the arts and the peo­ple who cre­ate them in com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment and ed­u­ca­tion. “The stage is as im­por­tant as a base­ball di­a­mond,” he says. “And [artists and per­form­ers] don’t get the credit.”

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