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Monday, April 24, 2017, 6:07 p.m.

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THEATER REVIEW

New 'musical drama' weathers its premiere

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published April 21, 2017 at 2:30 a.m.

Not entirely an opera and not really a musical, and billed therefore as a new musical drama, During Wind and Rain, which received its world premiere Thursday night at North Little Rock's Argenta Community Theater, was an awe-inspiring musical and theatrical experience.

The show is based on the late 19th-century family history of librettist Margaret Jones Bolsterli, who grew up in the tiny Desha County town of Watson -- also the hometown of composer/conductor Michael Rice.

Rice and director Judy Trice have assembled a cast of absolutely gorgeous voices, right down to the little children and chorus of townsfolk.

In the bright, joyful first act, matriarch Maggie Jones (mezzo-soprano Kathryn Pryor) and patriarch Joseph Jones (bari-tenor Matthew K. Tatus) revel in their prosperous farm and their growing family -- grown sons Gordon and Luther (tenors Mark A. Burbank and D. Brent Miller), grown daughters Irene and Sallie (soprano Karen Q. Clark and mezzo Sarah Stankiewicz Dailey), son-in-law Alfred Stroud (tenor Daniel Foltz-Morrison) and a passel of kids and grandkids (Madison Courage Fleck, Corbin Pitts, Lauren Lasseigne, Robbie Pryor and Bram Fendley).

The second act turns dark, really dark, right from the get-go -- I don't think it spoils anything by saying it opens with a funeral, and that's only the first of a series of tragedies that test the family, possibly past the breaking point.

Rice's gorgeous score skillfully works in period elements (some Gay '90s and even ragtime accents) plus a few familiar church tunes and a lovely setting of the Thomas Hardy poem that lends the show its name. Trice's direction is simple and brilliant; so is the set -- a front porch and a front yard, with the excellent nine-piece onstage orchestra in the back 40.

Cast and musicians will reassemble for performances at 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at the theater, 405 Main St., North Little Rock. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 353-1443 or visiting the website, argentacommunitytheater.com.

Metro on 04/21/2017

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