What’s not to like?
First and foremost, “1964” … The Tribute is a great musical ensemble performing some of the best rock ’n’ roll music ever recorded. Members’ uncanny resemblance to the Beatles in look and mannerism is definitely a bonus, but it is their note-for-note, nuance-for-nuance delivery of song after classic song that makes them a rare pleasure.
Since the original Fab Four were arguably the most popular musicians in the 20th century, it’s small wonder that such a dead-on perfect imitation should meet with great success. In 22 years, “1964” … The Tribute has grown from playing collectors’ conventions and private affairs to selling almost 1,700 tickets on a Thursday night in Little Rock, which says a lot about the staying power of both the Beatles as musicians and about “1964” as worthy keepers of the flame.
In two tight, fast-paced 45-minute sets, “1964” focused on the music the Beatles played before their retirement from touring, such as “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “She Loves You,” and “Twist and Shout.” With a starkly empty stage, the vintage gear and perfect harmonies, “1964” recreated the sound and feel of this era precisely. Even better, they absolutely nailed the more mature, demanding material from late in the live Beatles era: “In My Life,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and perhaps the finest performance of the night, “Paperback Writer.”
“1964” provides manufactured reminiscence for an experience that no longer exists. It is musical theater, a touchstone for a cultural and artistic phenomenon that is much larger than any imitators can convey. “1964” … The Tribute gives its audience a brief access to something inaccessible. And the music is great.
— By Tim Jones
‘The Hip Hop Project’
Arkansas Repertory Theatre
With rhythmic rhyming spoken word, breathtaking breakdance numbers, a set decorated with graffiti and spinning tire rims, super sexy costumes and material both comedic and dramatic, the Rep’s production of “The Hip-Hop Project” was an exhilarating experience as educational as it was entertaining.
The two-act production — written, choreographed and starring undergrad students from UAPB — focused on the lifestyle and subculture, now 30 years in evolution, that is “hip-hop.” It was recently named the southwestern winner of the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C.
Part party and part play, the “Project” resident DJ commanded the audience to get their booties up off the seats and clap their hands or do whatever their thing was to get into the vibe the heavy bumpin’ bass lines were creating. Many moved towards the front of the stage, got up and coolly clapped and waved their hands in the air.
We sat down after acting a fool for the first of many dance numbers. A troupe of muscular dancers, all male, popped, locked, robot-ed, and performed acrobatic spins, twirls, and attitudinal creeps with confidence. Considering that this dance form started as a way for rival gangs to rumble, it was perfect and sexy as hell.
Speaking of sexy, the three female cast members — Cynthia Tally, Precious Hall and Rikki D. Nelson — gave the stage its moon-powered gleam. Their physical good looks were but a mere part of their overall appeal. Intelligent, right-on-time musings in the form of fast prose and poetry addressed everything from the childhood disease known as the “cooties” to the “baby mama” and the self-restraint it takes to be a strong woman. The male actors also delivered various poignant monologues, haiku and a cappella beat box numbers on such subjects as gun violence, sexual indiscretions, treatment of women and HIV.
The music is the star in the production. Grand Master Flash, the SugarHill Gang, Eazy-E, Salt-n-Pepa, LL Cool J, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, Wu Tang Clan, Jay-Z and P. Diddy — these hip hop pioneers were given nods of respect by way of their music or in spoken references.
The vibe of the whole experience was positive and feel-good throughout the whole run of the production.
We left with more knowledge of this subset of American culture — and we heard it straight from those students that were the real deal, who lived and learned it and passed this art form on to us.
— By Amy Brawner
Little Shop of Horrors
Funny at first
Weekend Theater’s “Little Shop of Horrors,” which continues through Aug. 7, wrings enough laughs from the 50-year-old musical to compete with any other summer diversion, even if the last act is a little flat.
All the favorite characters and punchy one-liners that have kept this musical a cult classic are played dead-on. Seymour (Philip Gordon) is the same lovable schmuck with horn-rimmed glasses and gaudy plaid attire, and is a spitting image of Rick Moranis in the 1986 film. Pamela Crane’s performance as Audrey, whiney and all, makes her the play’s most solid performer. Duane Jackson doesn’t trail too far behind as the semi-sadistic dentist, whose raunchy showmanship reminds audiences of Steve Martin’s early work.
So maybe TWT cast did little to add anything of their own to the roles. But then again, why mess with a good thing? Their delivery was hilarious and showed an obvious passion to revive the classic characters without any fancy one-upmanship.
Without a doubt one of the best parts of the production is the props. They made for a fairly convincing arch-villain, the Audrey II, and though it was a little obvious how they worked, the props’ ingenuity nevertheless made them charming to watch.
The energy and quirkiness that kept the first act hilarious deflated after intermission. It’s hard to completely blame the TWT team for falling apart at the end, though the actors did seem to tire quickly after Act I. The musical itself slips in its social satire by focusing too much on tying up loose ends of the plot, instead of sticking with the strange and interesting characters it worked so hard to set up.
But the first hour of the musical will undoubtedly be one of TWT’s stellar moments this season, and well worth the price of admission.
The show continues through Sunday, Aug. 7. Check the calendar for showtimes.
— Dustin Allen
“1964” … The Tribute
Robinson Center Music Hall