Blood, Sweat And A Chicken House: Arkansas Public Theatre announces Season 35

Blood, Sweat And A Chicken House: Arkansas Public Theatre announces Season 35


“I think Season 35 really encompasses the notion of what Arkansas Public Theatre is,” muses Ed McClure, the company’s artistic director and one of its founders. “APT is all about the mix of classics with cutting-edge and fresh-from-Broadway productions.”

It’s also a huge leap from where Rogers Little Theater started in 1985. Back then, the company had no permanent home, no employees, no budget — and the first season was five shows, all standard community theater fare, produced wherever actors could find a space. RLT became Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory in 2015 to “reflect the size, scope and innovation of its productions and pay homage to its historic home.”

The 2020-21 season will include three musicals — “Sweeney Todd,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; a classic comedy, “A Christmas Story”; and everything else is new: “The Waverly Gallery” by Kenneth Lonergan, “Straight White Men” by Young Jean Lee, “Hillary and Clinton” by Lucas Hnath and “The Lifespan of a Fact” by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell based on the book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal.

To create the annual buffet of new works and familiar ones, McClure watches what’s gotten good reviews or extended runs on Broadway or Off-Broadway.

“Like everyone else, I have to wait for the new scripts to be published and hunt down which publishing house is going to have them,” he says. “And then we get the rights because we’re right there on the doorstep, asking, as soon as they’re available. Two of these weren’t even published when I started looking last fall!”

Harry Blundell, a longtime theatrical colleague of McClure’s at Arts Center of the Ozarks, always said metaphorically that he couldn’t make dinner without looking to see what he had in the refrigerator. But McClure says the APT casting pool only minimally affects his selection of shows.

“We have been fortunate to have people turn out and be cast that we had no idea who they were until they came to auditions,” he says. “So at this point, I don’t sit around and stew and fret and wonder who’s going to play a part.”

But while he may not have any of the shows cast in his head, McClure knows the one he’s most looking forward to.

“I’ve always wanted to do ‘Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,’” he admits. “I think it will be perfectly suited for our theater, for our audience — and it’s just so much fun. It’s such a fun show.”

To those who are surprised to see a Stephen Sondheim selection opening the season — McClure is, in general, not a fan — he says that “the movie version of ‘Sweeney Todd’ was compelling and really helped me enjoy the score more than I had just seeing it in the theater — which is crazy because I hardly ever like a movie version better! It’s so dark and so different, it just felt like a good time to do it, in the fall of 2020.

“Plus, it’s a favorite of our musical director, Lisa Auten, and that helped seal the deal!”

After delaying the season announcement last year, McClure says the APT Board and staff also discovered they like January better.

“We’re halfway through this season, and it helps us draw attention to our upcoming musical — ‘Newsies’ — and forces us to make decisions we need to make,” he says. “So we’ll be doing this on the third Friday in January. It works out better for us.”



APT Sets

Season 35

“Sweeney Todd” — Book by Hugh Wheeler; music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Sweeney Todd, an unjustly exiled barber, returns to 19th century London seeking vengeance against the lecherous judge who framed him and ravaged his young wife. Then the road to revenge leads Todd to Mrs. Lovett, a resourceful proprietress of a failing pie shop. Auditions — 7 p.m. July 27; performances — Sept. 11-13, 17-20, 24-27.

“The Waverly Gallery” — By Kenneth Lonergan. Always irascible but now increasingly erratic, Gladys is the elderly matriarch of the Green family, proprietor of an art gallery in a small Greenwich Village hotel — and a cause of growing concern to her daughter, her son-in-law, and her grandson, from whose point of view this poignant memory play is told. Auditions — 7 p.m. Sept. 14; performances — Oct. 30-Nov. 1 & Nov. 5-8.

“A Christmas Story” — Based on the 1983 movie. Nine-year-old Ralphie Parker has a quest to get a genuine Red Ryder BB gun under the tree for Christmas, even if the adults all worry, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Auditions — 7 p.m. Nov. 2; performances — Dec. 11-13 and 17-20.

“Saturday Night Fever: The Musical” — Based on the Paramount/SRO film. Told through the eyes of a talented, streetwise kid from Brooklyn who attempts to escape his dead-end life through dancing, the musical is powered by the chart-breaking hits of the Bee Gees. Auditions — 7 p.m. Dec. 14; performances — Feb. 5-7, 11-14, 18-21, 2021.

“Straight White Men” — By Young Jean Lee. When Ed and his three adult sons come together to celebrate Christmas, they enjoy cheerful trash-talking, pranks and takeout Chinese. Then they confront a problem that even being a happy family can’t solve: When identity matters and privilege is problematic, what is the value of being a straight white man? Auditions — 7 p.m. Feb. 8, 2021; performances — March 26-28, April 1-3, 2021.

“Hillary and Clinton” — By Lucas Hnath. In an alternate universe is a woman named Hillary, who is trying to become the president of a country called the United States in 2008. She needs more money to keep the campaign going, so she calls her husband for help. He offers her a deal, a tough deal, but when she gets his help, she gets more than she bargained for. You may think you know where this story is going, but you don’t. After all, the play takes place in an alternate universe where anything can happen. Auditions — 7 p.m. March 29, 2021; performances — May 7-8 & 13-16, 2021.

“The Lifespan of a Fact” — By Jeremy Kareken & David Murrell and Gordon Farrell based upon the book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal. Jim Fingal is a fresh-out-of-Harvard fact checker for a prominent but sinking New York magazine. John D’Agata is a talented writer with a transcendent essay about the suicide of a teenage boy — an essay that could save the magazine from collapse. When Jim is assigned to fact check D’Agata’s essay, the two come head to head in a comedic yet gripping battle over facts versus truth. Auditions — 7 p.m. May 10, 2021; performances — June 18-19, 24-27, 2021.

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” — Book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson. Music and Lyrics by Carol Hall. This happy-go-lucky view of small-town vice and statewide political side-stepping recounts the good times and the demise of the Chicken Ranch, known since the 1850s as one of the better pleasure palaces in all of Texas. Auditions — 7 p.m. June 7, 2021; performances — July 23-25, 29-Aug. 1 & Aug. 5-8, 2021.

INFO — 631-8988 or

Categories: Theater