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Performing Arts Blog

Edith Vonnegut painted the poster art for the 1979 Off-Broadway production of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

Any Millennial with a wireless connection and a heart probably YouTubes “Part of Your World” more often than they care to admit. The songs of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken sustain us—they’re part of the American subconscious—which makes it all the stranger that the team’s first collaboration, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, has been virtually forgotten. Based on Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel, the 1979 musical follows the journey of Eliot Rosewater, a potato-chip-loving millionaire who devotes his life to saving an Indiana town full of lost souls. Savagely funny and unapologetically political, Rosewater is returning to New York this week in a City Center revival. In this oral history, you’ll learn how the show was created, why it flopped Off-Broadway, and why it deserves to live again.

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July 25, 2016 by New York City Center

Kurt Vonnegut

During the autumn of 1979, genius lived in the ballroom of the Ukrainian National Home. The 56-year-old countercultural icon Kurt Vonnegut was there, hunkered down over sheet music with Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, two young songwriters who’d created a musical version of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Ashman and Menken would rocket to fame a few years later with Little Shop of Horrors, but at the time Vonnegut regarded them, kindly, as “a bunch of nobodies.”

Still, he was happy to be in a rehearsal room. “He was in love with the theater,” says Edith Vonnegut, his daughter. “He just thought it was the most fun of all the arts, because you got to play with all these different people.” Vonnegut was a devoted theatergoer who raised his children on Broadway cast albums like My Fair Lady and The Music Man; in the 1950s, he’d even served as president of the Barnstable Comedy Club, a “far out” community theater in Cape Cod. Vonnegut occasionally played bit parts at the Barnstable—a dinner party guest here, a Trojan warrior there—but mostly he hung backstage, writing and directing star vehicles for his wife Jane.

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July 18, 2016 by New York City Center

Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford joins SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

Soon she can add Georges Seurat to her history of wrong guys: Tony Award winner Annaleigh Ashford will join the previously announced Jake Gyllenhaal in City Center’s Gala concert performance of Sunday in the Park with George on October 24. In response to overwhelming demand for performance-only tickets, we’ve added two additional benefit performances of Sunday on October 25 and 26. Click here to get tickets.

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July 14, 2016 by New York City Center

Four of Elizabeth Swados’ former students performing her work. Photo by Luiz Ribeiro.

“I can turn all kinds of things into songs,” the late Elizabeth Swados once said. She wasn’t kidding. On July 6, 2016, a concert of her deep cuts made the case for Swados as an artist of boundless range, willing to tackle everything from Old Testament romance to the desensitization of soldiers in Vietnam. “I’d never seen a woman make work like that before,” said Encores! Off-Center Artistic Director Jeanine Tesori at the concert, which was held in City Center’s Grand Tier lobby before the first performance of Runaways. “She was an amazing force, and I don’t think that enough people know about her.”

But the Cult of Swados keeps growing. At the concert, Tesori was joined by five charter members—Thomas Hennes, Matthew Marsh, Preston Martin, Shaina Taub, and Hannah Whitman. All of them were taught by Swados at NYU Tisch. And all are animated by the sense of living in a post-Swados world—in Martin’s words, “a world in which a bunch of babies like us were saved by a shaman that couldn’t get her hands on everyone, so now we gotta get out there and lay hands on the rest of humanity in her honor.” So they came to City Center—to sing, to crack Debbie Allen jokes, and to reveal which Swados song has become a NYU-wedding staple.

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July 11, 2016 by New York City Center

Elizabeth Swados in 1978 (left) and Randy Ruiz and Diane Lane in the original Off-Broadway production of Runaways (right). Photofest; Martha Swope/©Billy Rose Theatre Division, NYPL for the Performing Arts

For a few months in the late spring of 1978, the Public Theater had three shows on Broadway that together served as a measure of how much Joseph Papp’s brash, fertile institution had changed the game. One, Michael Bennett’s cash cow A Chorus Line, was in the third year of an historic 15-year run at the Shubert; another, Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, was rounding out a nearly two-year run at the Booth.

The third was Runaways, Elizabeth Swados’ raw, rangy musical patchwork, which opened at the Plymouth in mid-May for a tumultuous seven-month run. It may have been the shortest-lived of the three Public exports, but this odd, affecting, hand-crafted work not only garnered a cult following among alt-musical lovers; when Swados died in January, artists as varied as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Josh Charles, and Jackie Hoffman took to Twitter to sing the show’s praises.

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July 5, 2016 by New York City Center