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2018 spring theater preview 

Cue the footlights

click to enlarge PRIDE ROCK IN LITTLE ROCK: The elaborate touring production of "The Lion King" roars at Robinson Center Performance Hall April 19-May 6.
  • PRIDE ROCK IN LITTLE ROCK: The elaborate touring production of "The Lion King" roars at Robinson Center Performance Hall April 19-May 6.

It may not be, as Shakespeare said, that "All the world's a stage," but all of Central Arkansas certainly will be this spring. From Arkansas's largest professional resident theater in the state capital to volunteer-based community shows in the suburbs, it seems like there really is something for all lovers of spectacle — both great and small — coming to the boards in spring.

Here we go again at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre: Based on the infectious music of '70s supergroup ABBA, "Mamma Mia" will be brought to life in brilliant Technicolor on The Rep's stage March 14-April 8. A smash hit that's been sold out for years on tour and the ninth-longest-running Broadway show of all time with 5,758 performances, "Mamma Mia" is irresistable. Extend those laughs with The Rep's June 6-24 production of "God of Carnage," a contemporary comedy of manners — without the manners. After two boys get into a playground fight, their affluent parents meet to provide a positive example of conflict resolution. Unfortunately for them, the resolution isn't so positive. Fortunately for us, the juvenile war of words and unexpected ferocity that result won this searingly dark comedy three Tony Awards. Check out ticket options at therep.org.

God shows up in the lineup at The Studio Theater in downtown Little Rock as well ... in a sense. "Hand to God," a five-time Tony-nominated play about a puppet ministry in the devoutly religious town of Cypress, Texas, will be produced March 8-18. Fans of the Tony Award-winning "Avenue Q" won't be surprised to learn that this show — an irreverent comedy about a possessed Christian-ministry puppet — shares one of its creators. The Studio Theater then turns its attention to the reflective, showcasing the Newbery Medal-winning "Bridge to Terabithia" in April and the modern children's classic "Tuck Everlasting" in June 14-July 1. July will bring another raucous show for the cheeky viewer when "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" graces the stage, July 12-29. You'll find tickets and showtimes at centralarkansastickets.com.

Never short on crowd-pleasing, Broadway-based entertainment, Murry's Dinner Playhouse has some well-known and beloved productions slated for the next few months. From Feb. 20 to March 17, Murry's presents "Never Too Late," a Broadway play from 1962 about a middle-aged woman about to become a parent again. Spoofing that very same time period, "Little Shop of Horrors" is next, running March 21-April 21. With music by composer Alan Menken, who wrote the likes of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sister Act," you'll be bopping right along. From April 24-May 26, Murry's will stage "Southern Fried Nuptials," the uproarious sequel to last season's "Southern Fried Funeral," followed May 29-July 7 by "Menopause the Musical" (a parody showcasing four women at a lingerie sale with nothing in common but a black lace bra and memory loss, hot flashes and night sweats). Book the season closer in advance: "Grease" runs July 11-Aug. 25. Check out showtimes at murrysdp.com.

With so many important issues facing today's educational system, it's vital to remember our journey to this point, and The Weekend Theater's production of "Inherit the Wind" running through March 20 can do just that. A fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" trial, which resulted in John T. Scopes' conviction for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to a high school science class, the story is still relevant today. The Weekend Theater continues its socially significant programming April 6-22 with Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins," a dramatization of historic assassins created from the slim biographical information available. This musical prompts us to consider the killers' motivations. The Weekend Theater concludes its 2017-18 season with "Stick Fly" on May 11-26. An African-American story confronting the ideas of race and privilege, "Stick Fly" is a profound capper to a thoughtful lineup. You'll find those showtimes at weekendtheater.org.

For a lighthearted evening of laughs, try The Main Thing at The Joint Theater in North Little Rock. "Grandpa Hasn't Moved in Days," a family farce set at a funeral, will be playing through March 24. "Orange Is the New White," a collection of original comic sketches centered around local issues and current events, will be performed March 30-June 16, and "Birthday From Hell," a comedy about a woman unhappily turning 40, will be featured June 22-Aug. 31. Check out these shows and the venue's other offerings at thejointargenta.com.

At Robinson Center Performance Hall, Celebrity Attractions will be bringing in a tapestry of big-name shows: On March 1, "The Neighborhood Barbershop: When Love Fades Live" will make its Arkansas debut with notable actress and comedian Mo'Nique. Don't let anybody put you in a corner on March 17-18, when "Dirty Dancing" will be in town. Few will want to miss "The Lion King," winner of six Tony Awards including Best Costume Design for its mind-blowing costume/puppetry hybrid, coming April 19-May 6. Feel the earth move at "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" May 29-June 3. Tickets and showtimes are at celebrityattractions.com.

Metropolitan Little Rock doesn't have dibs on all the great productions. In March, head to The Five Star Dinner Theatre in Hot Springs, where you can see "Always a Bridesmaid," a show that explores the relationship between a handful of Southern belles who promise to always be each other's bridesmaids (Saturdays, March 31-April 28). Then head to Wildwood Park for the Arts, where the Praeclara ensemble performs Sondheim's "Into the Woods," April 13-14. The rollicking gospel-inspired "Smoke on the Mountain" will be presented by the Red Curtain Theatre in Conway May 11-20. Load up the kiddos and head back to the Spa City for "James and the Giant Peach," staged June 1-10 by Pocket Community Theatre. Cross the Arkansas for Argenta Community Theater's "Big River" — the musical about America's beloved Huck Finn — July 18-28. The Royal Players produce "Anything Goes" Aug. 9-19.

Plan a monthly trip to the City of Colleges: The Lantern Theatre in Conway is showing "Steel Magnolias" Feb. 23-March 4, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" April 20-29, and the Scottish play ("Macbeth") July 20-29.

This season, the play's the thing.

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