An outdoor dinner with a Tony Award winner and a seven-show collaboration are part of the Argenta Community Theater's reopening plans as the organization prepares to perform before live audiences for the first time in more than 480 days.
Vincent Insalaco, the community theater's producing artistic director, and Executive Director Laura Grimes announced Tuesday that the theater's seven-show 2021-22 season will feature performances of Pippin, Steel Magnolias, The Sound of Music, A Christmas Carol, A Little Night Music, Our Town and The Wizard of Oz.
"A lot of the new shows we chose were because they were manageable for us to do after the pandemic," Grimes said. "They will have smaller casts that will be fully vaccinated. The shows also bring a certain feel of joy and catharsis, like Steel Magnolias, which is something we need after this pandemic."
Officials also announced Tuesday that Tony Award-winning and Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated artist Ben Vereen will attend a reopening celebration dinner Aug. 17 at Argenta Plaza.
Vereen, 74, is a veteran stage and television performer who won the 1973 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in the original Broadway production of Pippin. He was nominated in 1972 as well, for his performance in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Insalaco noted that 11 years ago, when the theater first opened, former President Bill Clinton and other officials attended a dinner that illustrated the importance of the arts facility.
"We wanted to mimic that on the 10th anniversary, but we didn't get to do it last year, so we are going to do it this year," Insalaco said.
Insalaco said officials decided on Pippin as their debut performance because it has a smaller cast with names that everyone will recognize.
The shows will be produced in partnership with Opera in the Rock, Wildwood Park for the Arts and ACANSA, a visual and performing arts festival dedicated to building a more dynamic community through the arts.
"I hope this partnership is just the beginning of our relationship," Little Rock City Director Capi Peck said while speaking about the partnership between the North Little Rock theater and Wildwood Park in Little Rock. "Don't even think about the river that separates us. I think that is what is great about the arts. It brings us together."
A large part of the theme during Tuesday's announcement was excitement and relief after the worst of the covid-19 pandemic, which closed the doors of theaters for more than a year and affected so many lives.
"We have had many funerals over the past year. So many people were lost to covid. We lost a staffer as well," Insalaco said. "We understand it. We have lived through it."
Chris Kent, executive director for the Argenta Downtown Council, noted that the theater has played an important role for the community during the pandemic. He said the organization stored tents and tables inside the vacant theater, allowing the council to hold outdoor events when needed.
"It helped keep our restaurants alive during the pandemic," Kent said. "On behalf of all the restaurants in the area, we want to say thank you."