Tickets sales to benefit nonprofit The Composers Showcase

By: Jan. 20, 2022
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Angel of Arkansas, a new show by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor, will premiere in the 175-seat Renkus-Heinz Theatre at Notoriety Live at Neonopolis on Jan. 30.

The remarkable real-life experiences of Ruth Coker Burks inspired Angel of Arkansas, dramatizing the story of a young single mother in 1986 rural Arkansas. Suddenly, she was transformed into a one-woman hospice, health advocate, political activist, pharmaceutical distributor, and undertaker to thousands of young men at the height of the AIDS crisis.

"We first heard about Ruth's story in an article in The Advocate a few years ago," said Oberacker. "We knew it was a compelling story and were interested from the very beginning about creating a piece of theater that would explore the lives of the men she touched as well as her own work. We also wanted to focus our story on the journey she made from a conservative view to a more inclusive and open-minded view of spirituality. This story focus allowed us to move away from the details of the burials and the end-of-life care she provided and look more broadly at the entire community far removed from the political hotspots of the time, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., and how they dealt with the crisis differently."

The show is set in 2010, when Ruth suffered a stroke, and the theatrical structure of the musical rises from this medical crisis. The past and the various stories of the men and what happened through the mid-'80s to mid-'90s are interwoven in a very dreamlike way which further defines the unique identity of this musical.

Ruby Lewis
Photo by Bing Putney

Ruby Lewis portrays the lead of Ruth as the only female role, bringing her own southern background and portrayal of other strong but vulnerable women (Marilyn Monroe) to the role.

"I had wanted to work with Ruby for quite some time because of her vocal abilities, but I had no idea she actually had such a brilliant country-western vocal style available," explains Oberacker. "She's a very deep actress. To watch her become this other woman, Ruth is a surprise and a treat that we are very much looking forward to sharing with this one special audience."

The ensemble includes Broadway powerhouse Brent Barrett of Chicago, Annie Get Your Gun, Grand Hotel, West Side Story, and Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular. Additional cast includes Noah Rivera, Todd Dubail, Daz Weller, Devin L. Roberts, Phillip Officer, Luke Striffler, Christopher Lash, Paul Johnson, Steffan Scrogan, Paul Bradley, and JeShaun Jackson. The crucial role of The Doctor, which is voiced offstage, will be performed by Annette Houlihan Verdolino. She is an alum of some of the most legendary avant-garde stages of New York's fringe, cabaret, experimental scene, and internationally as a renowned burlesque emcee.

Six high-profile musicians will form the band to accompany the cast. Oberacker will conduct his own score from the piano. Grammy-nominated Jake Langley will play acoustic and electric guitar. Paul Molloy will play acoustic and electric guitar as well as mandolin and banjo. Tyler Williams will play bass, and Jakubu Griffin will play drums.

Conductor, composer, lyricist, and librettist Oberacker is the musical director for Cirque du Soleil's Ka in Las Vegas. As a composer and lyricist, Oberacker's original musicals include A Little Theater, In That Valley, Dracula, and The Gospel According To Fishman. Taylor is the co-lyricist/librettist with Richard Oberacker of several new musicals, including Ace, Journey To The West, The Parenting Project, The Sandman, and their Tony Award-winning musical, Bandstand.

Brent Barrett
Photo by Levi Walker

Featuring a stellar cast of Broadway and Las Vegas talent and a live six-piece band, ticket sales will benefit the nonprofit The Composers Showcase, which provides a platform for original musical works, scholarship, and financial assistance to the Las Vegas entertainment community. Visit thecomposersshowcase.com to donate or for more information.

"We believe audiences are hungry for a show that is so deeply emotional. Years ago, this piece would have played well, we think, but certainly, after experiencing these past two years of the pandemic, this story has a new resonance. Additionally, our nation is experiencing a level of conflict and division that hasn't been around since the 1960s. This story is so much about healing divisions and listening to other points of view and experiences. That has a profound relevance today," says Oberacker.

Angel of Arkansas will premiere at Notoriety Live at Neonopolis on Jan. 30. The concert will be followed by a gala reception with the performers and creatives. Showtime is 2 p.m., and tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Convenient parking underneath Neonopolis at 4th Street and Fremont is free with validation. For more info, visit www.notorietylive.com.


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