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Performing Arts Blog
Tommy Tune Photo

Tommy Tune, photographed by Joan Marcus.

Over the course of his fabled career, Tommy Tune has won nine Tony Awards, danced with Twiggy, and been directed by Gene Kelly. Now he makes his long-awaited return to New York musical theater in the Encores! production of George & Ira Gershwin’s 1924 confection Lady, Be Good! The show features two numbers—“Fascinating Rhythm” and “Little Jazz Bird”—that have been specifically tailored for Tune by choreographer Randy Skinner.

We spoke with Tune about the difficulties of preserving dance, his feelings about revivals, and his mother’s flapper days.

CITY CENTER: What drew you to Lady, Be Good?
TOMMY TUNE: Gershwin. I’m a fool for Gershwin. I did 1,500 performances of My One and Only, which was a Gershwin musical, and it just sits with my voice and my body for dancing. I can’t resist it. As rock and roll come on when I was in high school—Elvis Presley and all of that—I just didn’t get it, because I was so infused with that earlier time. I always wished that I had been born in the ’20s, and had been able to be in vaudeville. This show, for me, is like a chance to be in vaudeville, because my part was originally played by a vaudevillian named Ukulele Ike. His character just mysteriously drops into the show—once in the first act, and once in the second act. For no excuse at all! I talked to our director Mark Brokaw, and I said, “I guess this is the one time we don’t have to discuss backstory, because there is none.” (laughs) If we were viewing the show through contemporary eyes, as interpreters, we would say, “Well, just cut those two numbers. They don’t do anything for the plot.” But that wasn’t important in the ‘20s. Entertainment was important.

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January 30, 2015 by New York City Center
Colin Donnell in Encores

Colin Donnell will play Jack Robinson in the Encores! production of Lady, Be Good!

Lady, Be Good! star Colin Donnell might have been an ’80s kid, but he’s always been fond of the bubbly jazz-baby songs of George & Ira Gershwin. “When I was a kid, I used to watch old movie musicals like An American in Paris and Funny Face with my mom,” he explains, “and in college I had some friends who were really into jazz. I have strong memories of drinking and listening to Miles Davis just ad nauseam, over and over.”

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January 28, 2015 by New York City Center
Stanford Makishi at City Center

Stanford Makishi, photographed by Matt Karas.

Stanford Makishi has joined New York City Center in the newly created position of Vice President for Programming. He arrives with quite a resume—having danced with Trisha Brown, served as director of creative services at Carnegie Hall, and helped run the Baryshnikov Arts Center with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Stanford has been part of the City Center family since 2011, as the Associate Producer of the Fall for Dance Festival. “As City Center looks forward to creating and presenting more work, Stanford became the obvious choice to help bring these plans to life,” says Arlene Shuler, President & CEO of New York City Center.

How do you see City Center’s programming evolving in the next few years?
STANFORD MAKISHI: One thing that’s great about our existing programming—from Fall for Dance to Encores!—is that there’s something really welcoming about it. I’d love to build on that tradition, to make City Center feel like the city’s cultural living room. Not just on the stage, but in the lobby areas, the studios, and beyond, in ways that complement our mainstage programming.

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January 21, 2015 by New York City Center
Lady Be Good Marquee

The marquee of London’s Empire Theatre, where Lady, Be Good moved after Broadway. Adele Astaire Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center.

1924: an amazing year for musical theater in New York and in particular for George and Ira Gershwin, culminating in the opening of the first show with songs solely by the brothers, Lady, Be Good. George especially was prolific in ways we can hardly imagine. He began to write the game-changing “Rhapsody in Blue” on January 7, and performed it only a little more than a month later on February 12, as part of Paul Whiteman’s famous "An Experiment in Modern Music.” Writing that piece would drain an ordinary musician, but Sweet Little Devil, a Broadway musical for which George composed the songs, opened on January 21 and a week later he was in Boston to perform a recital with soprano Éva Gauthier.

The spring was all about the “Rhapsody,” which George performed at Carnegie Hall and in major U.S. cities before recording it with Whiteman and his orchestra in New York on June 10. After finishing his songs for the George White’s Scandals of 1924, Gershwin left for London at the beginning of July to write another musical, the West End hit Primrose. Although most of the lyrics are by Desmond Carter, George was able to include some by Ira, recycling songs they had written for the 1921 flop A Dangerous Maid.

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January 13, 2015 by New York City Center