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Performing Arts Blog
Howard Ashman

Bookwriter and lyricist Howard Ashman on the set of Little Shop of Horrors.

On the eve of the first performance of Little Shop of Horrors at City Center, we asked Sarah Ashman Gillespie, the sister of the late, great Howard Ashman, to share a few memories of the musical’s unlikely beginnings.

Full confession…we tried to talk him out of it. It was 1981 and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater had closed, disappointingly and too soon—stumbling in the transition from the WPA Theatre on 19th Street to the Entermedia in the East Village. Now Howard was talking about a new idea for a show. A musical based on Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors.

Howard’s family and friends were duly horrified. If making a musical out of a Kurt Vonnegut classic was problematic, making a musical out of a Roger Corman B-movie set on Skid Row and featuring a talking plant was suicidal.

And we loved Howard a lot. So we tried to talk him out of it. We rented a Betamax (look it up) tape and screened the movie. Howard, my husband and I, some friends, and Howard’s agent Esther Sherman gathered around the television and—all but one of us—shuddered.

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June 30, 2015 by New York City Center
William Finn Rehearsal

Choreographer Josh Prince, William Finn, and James Lapine in rehearsal for the Encores! Off-Center production of A New Brain, photographed by Joan Marcus.

We asked Tony Award-winning composer William Finn to share a few thoughts on revisiting his autobiographical musical A New Brain at City Center, almost 20 years after the original production premiered.

1.
During the rehearsal period for A New Brain at Lincoln Center, my mother died in Boston. I would spend a few days in New York where Graciela Daniele, the wonderful director of that production, would tell me to go spend time with my mother, and a few days in Boston where my beloved mother would tell me I belonged in New York, and to get going. As the date for the opening approached, she took morphine so that my whole family could come to my opening. That she was a character in the show only made it worse – or better, I’m not sure.

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June 26, 2015 by New York City Center
Mister Bungee

The tyrannical children’s television host Mr. Bungee (Dan Fogler) berates songwriter Gordon Schwinn (Jonathan Groff) in A New Brain. Photo by Joan Marcus.

At the beginning of William Finn’s zany, big-hearted musical A New Brain, the composer Gordon Schwinn is laboring over a mindless kiddie-show tune about lily pads. “It’s taking up the brunt of my time,” he sings. “I don’t have time to write my real stuff!” In reality, though, the leap from Sesame Street to Shubert Alley isn’t as far as you might think. To celebrate the Encores! Off-Center production of A New Brain, we spoke with five acclaimed musical theater songwriters who started out—or at least paid their rent—by writing for children’s television.

Tony Award-winning lyricist Lynn Ahrens talks about being plucked from the secretarial pool to write for “Schoolhouse Rock!”, and Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the Oscar-winning songwriting team behind Frozen, reminisce about the first song they ever wrote together—for “Bear in the Big Blue House.” Plus, Off-Center composers William Finn and Andrew Lippa reflect on their brief stints in children’s TV.

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June 24, 2015 by New York City Center
Megan Hilty in NYC

When Megan Hilty last appeared on the City Center stage—in the 2012 Encores! production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes—The New York Times’ Ben Brantley called it “one of those single, golden nights, so cherished by theatergoers, that thrust its leading lady into the firmament of musical stardom.” We’re thrilled to welcome Hilty back for New York City Center’s annual Gala Annie Get Your Gun: In Concert, a one-night-only performance of the classic Irving Berlin musical, on October 27, 2015. Directed by Tony Award winner and Encores! vet John Rando (On the Town, A Christmas Story, Urinetown), the Gala will feature the Encores! Orchestra led by Encores! Music Director Rob Berman. Additional casting will be announced at a later date.

Watch Hilty’s bawdy, hilarious performance of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:

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June 17, 2015 by New York City Center
Sutton Foster and Jonathan Groff

Sutton Foster and Jonathan Groff in conversation at City Center. Photo by Matt Karas.

In May we shared the first part of a chatty, wide-ranging conversation with Encores! Off-Center stars Sutton Foster and Jonathan Groff. In part two, Foster explains why she was drawn to The Wild Party and Groff shares what he learned by seeing her six times in Thoroughly Modern Millie. (They also talk about farting princesses and bad Irish accents.)

CITY CENTER: Jonathan, I wanted to ask how you stay present during Hamilton. You’re only onstage…

JONATHAN GROFF: I’m onstage for nine minutes, total.

SUTTON FOSTER: Really?

JG: Yeah.

SF: That’s a good job.

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June 16, 2015 by New York City Center
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