A lively spring at the theater 

From 'Driving Miss Daisy' to 'Ragtime the Musical.'

click to enlarge 'RAGTIME' IN SPRING: Chris Sams plays Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the April musical.
  • 'RAGTIME' IN SPRING: Chris Sams plays Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the April musical.

A wide range of great musicals, comedies and dramas awaits theater lovers in Arkansas this spring. We should start off with a few opportunities for performances that are closing this weekend so that you don't miss them.

First, there's still a chance to catch Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Cinderella" at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. It closes Sunday, March 6. The well-loved fairy tale is given a modern take with classic songs made famous by Julie Andrews (and later R&B singer Brandy), such as "In My Own Little Corner."

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre's one-man show "An Iliad" features Joseph Graves giving a powerful performance recounting the Trojan War. There will be a talkback after the Friday, March 4, performance featuring veterans sharing their wartime experience, and the play closes March 5.

Following "An Iliad" is another short-run solo performance, "Bill Clinton Hercules," which features Bob Paisley as Arkansas's favorite son giving an imaginary TED Talk about the history of democracy and his own place in it. The Rep will feature four shows March 24-26.

Little Rock's Weekend Theater will produce its own one-man show, "Vincent," an intimate look at the artist Van Gogh's life as told through the words of his brother, Theo. Penned by the late great Leonard Nimoy of "Star Trek," the play will be performed only twice, on March 18 and 19, so don't let this one pass you by.

Two more dramas from The Weekend Theater will cover timely themes of racial relations and women in war. The well-known "Driving Miss Daisy," which tells the story of a wealthy Jewish widow and her African-American chauffeur, runs April 1-17. "A Piece of My Heart" takes on the true story of six women who served in Vietnam as nurses or entertainers, and has received praise from the Vietnam Vets Association. It runs May 6-21.

The Rep's biggest feature this spring will be a musical adaptation of "The Bridges of Madison County," running April 8-May 1. This new Broadway musical won Tony Awards for best score and best original orchestrations, and departing director Bob Hupp calls it "the don't-miss show of the season." The show will also run at the Walton Arts Center April 19-24.

For those craving more Broadway musical fare, there is "Ragtime the Musical," presented by Celebrity Attractions at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center April 15-17. This production takes a look at New York City at the dawn of the 20th century, a time in American history when the country was brimming with potential. The play was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, but was hampered by high costs and competition with "The Lion King," making it a kind of lost gem in the Broadway canon.

The Second City, the perennial favorite comedy troupe from Chicago, will bring its new revue, "Hooking Up," to the Rep May 3-15. Closing out the Rep's season is a world premiere of Scooter Pietsch's "Windfall," directed by none other than Jason Alexander ("Seinfeld"). This dark comedy-caper explores the depths of human deviousness and deceit when overstressed co-workers discover they may be sharing $300 million in lottery winnings and try to outwit each other to take it all for themselves.

Continuing its 60th season this year, Community Theatre of Little Rock will produce Ernest Thompson's "On Golden Pond," a touching story about an elderly couple at their vacation home visited by the son of their daughter's fiance. Next up at CTLR, running June 3-19, is Irving Berlin's "Annie Get Your Gun: The Musical," a staging of Annie Oakley's time in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

For Northwest Arkansas theater fans, TheatreSquared has two witty plays coming up. First, running March 31-April 24, is "Rapture, Blister, Burn," a Pulitzer Prize-finalist comedy about two women who each want what the other has. It tackles the idea of whether women can "have it all" with both a successful career and fulfilling family life. Next is "Murder for Two" (May 12-29), a musical comedy murder mystery with dueling pianos.

Fayetteville's Walton Arts Center will feature "A Night with Janis Joplin" March 17-18, "Love That Dog" April 3, "Menopause the Musical" April 10, "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart" May 6-8 (Starr Theater), and "Beauty and the Beast" May 6-8 (Baum Walker Hall).

For Shakespeare fans, the University of Central Arkansas will produce the Bard's "The Winter's Tale," April 7-15. The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre hasn't yet released its schedule for the 2016 season, but stay tuned at arshakes.com; the season begins in June.

Lastly, at Murray's Dinner Playhouse this spring is a string of zany productions, including "Opal's Husband" (through March 12, the sequel to "Everybody Loves Opal"); "Leading Ladies," (March 22-April 16) about two Englishmen posing as women in order to claim a family fortune, "Double Wide Texas," (April 19-May 14) about a trailer park's attempts to thwart a nearby town from annexing them; and "The Last Potluck Supper" (May 17-June 18), the final musical in the rollicking Basement Ladies series.


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