With the announcement in spring that the Arkansas Repertory Theatre was immediately suspending operations, theater aficionados found themselves looking to alternative sources to fulfill their drama desires. The announcement that The Rep will return next year is the big news for spring, but for fall, local theater venues have stepped up to the proverbial plate to provide quality entertainment, with spectacles ranging from professional touring productions, to community gems, to dinner and a show.
Celebrity Attractions brings to Robinson Center Performance Hall a trio of Broadway sensations. From Oct.12-14, the touring production of the Tony Award-winning “Jersey Boys” — based on the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons — graces the stage with hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Walk Like A Man.” Smash No. 2 will play Nov. 20-25, when “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera,” in which the Phantom lures his beloved Christine and their son to Coney Island, comes to Little Rock. Finally, Robinson hosts yet another show based on familiar characters: “Finding Neverland,” a foray into the life of “Peter Pan” playwright J.M. Barrie (based on the Academy Award-winning film of the same name) Dec. 22-23.
For entertaining meals, Murry’s Dinner Playhouse is a must. Continuing its jaw-dropping schedule of almost one new show a month, Murry’s fall is packed with laughs. Running through Sept. 22 is “Social Security,” a Broadway comedy about an 83-year-old Cinderella who teaches her unusual family that it’s never too late to find your Prince Charming. “The Foreigner,” about a pathologically shy Englishman who goes to a Southern boarding house and pretends not to understand English so he can rest, runs Sept. 25-Oct 30. Another Southern romp, “The Hallelujah Girls,” in which five feisty female friends decide to shake up their lives in comical ways, plays Oct. 23-Nov. 17. For the holidays, Murry’s will bring the smash-movie-turned-smash-musical “Elf,” in which Santa’s elf Buddy discovers he’s actually a human and journeys to find his birth father, to its stage.
At the Argenta Community Theater in North Little Rock, the Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Co. will perform as part of the ACANSA Arts Festival Sept. 20-21. A show for fans of sketch comedy like “Saturday Night Live,” the Upright Citizens Brigade is an improvisation group that had its origins in Chicago with founders Amy Poehler and Little Rock native Matt Besser (along with Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh).
If participation comedy is your thing, make a visit to the Trieschmann Fine Arts Building at Hendrix College in Conway for The Red Curtain Theater’s production of “The Rocky Horror Show” Oct. 19-28. All sweet transvestites and cryogenically preserved motor-bikers should carefully select their viewing dates, however, as the Reynolds Performance Hall at the University of Central Arkansas will also be providing popular entertainment, with the razzle-dazzle knockout musical “Chicago,” Oct. 27-28.
Dr. Frank N. Furter makes a 10-performance return to Little Rock, too, for Club Sway’s fourth annual presentation of “Rocky Horror,” this year under the direction of Brittany Sparkles. Tickets to Sway’s super glam rock show sell out every year, so head to the club’s Facebook page and get your tickets (and $5 prop bag) early.
Another classic, the Tony Award-winning “The Secret Garden,” the tale of a spoiled orphan and the transformative power of a discovered garden, will be presented by the Pocket Community Theatre in Hot Springs Oct. 5-14. The theme of innocence continues with the Nov. 30-Dec. 9 production of “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” a play inspired by a simple, poignant letter written by an 8-year-old to the editor of the New York Sun.
For Christmas in Northwest Arkansas (Nov. 28-Dec. 30), Fayetteville’s TheatreSquared will present “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” a play set two years after the events of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” As the family gathers at the Darcys to celebrate the holiday, Mary, the bookish middle child of the Bennets, finally has her day. TheatreSquared’s season kicks off Sept. 23, with “Once,” a tale of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant who are drawn together by their love of music. The winner of a Tony, a Grammy and an Oscar, “Once” has been intimately reimagined for TheatreSquared.