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This summer, City Center’s acclaimed Encores! Off-Center series will return with concert revivals of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Assassins (July 12-15), Kirsten ChildsThe Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin (July 26-27), and Carole King and Maurice Sendak’s Really Rosie (August 2-5). We asked incoming Off-Center artistic director Michael Friedman to share a few thoughts about why these musicals matter.

For the last four years, as a happy audience member at Encores! Off-Center, I couldn’t wait to find out what unexpected delights would come each season. What unmissable performance, what glorious score? Off-Center, City Center’s summer series of landmark Off-Broadway musicals, has grown from a brilliant idea to an essential institution, a program as generous, ferocious, surprising, beautiful, and brilliant as its first artistic director, Jeanine Tesori. Jeanine, like everyone who brought this program to life, believes in the musical as one of the central American art forms, and one that encompasses a much larger, more inclusive body of work than we usually remember.

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February 27, 2017 by New York City Center

Casting announced for the Encores! production of The New Yorkers

We’re delighted to announce the cast of the Encores! production of The New Yorkers, the madcap Prohibition musical that introduced such Cole Porter standards as “Love for Sale” and “I Happen to Like New York.” Virtually unseen since its 1930 premiere, the show centers on featherbrained socialite Alice Wentworth (Olivier Award nominee Scarlett Strallen), whose bootlegger beau Al Spanish (Tam Mutu, Doctor Zhivago) leads her on a madcap romp from Park Avenue to Sing Sing and back again. Along the way, the couple encounters a parade of Depression-era archetypes: the vaudevillian Jimmie Deegan (three-time Tony Award nominee Kevin Chamberlin), the gangster Feet McGeegan (Arnie Burton, The 39 Steps), and a lady of the evening (Cyrille Aimée, A Bed and A Chair).

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February 23, 2017 by New York City Center

Roger Miller at home in 1965, serenading his Grammy Awards. (Ralph Crane)

“I’m not sure I can do this thing,” Roger Miller said the first time we met to discuss Big River. “I’ve only seen two Broadway musicals in my life—one was My Fair Lady and the other was George in the Park with Sunday.”

Roger, of course, was pretending he was simpler than he was, because that’s how a Good Ol’ Boy shows he’s smarter than you—with irony. Just as Huckleberry Finn, in Mark Twain’s novel, declares he’s bad after making the best choice of his life: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell…I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it….And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again.”

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February 7, 2017 by New York City Center

Sheet music—and chorines—from the 1930 Broadway production of Strike Up the Band.

The playwright David Ives’ adaptation of The Liar is now playing at Classic Stage Company—but before he tackled Corneille, Ives spent a few months every year at Encores!, spitshining ancient musical librettos about hard-boiled showgirls, lonesome puppeteers, and sex-crazed Roman gods. When we asked Ives to reminisce about his favorite Encores! experience, his response came with lickety-split certainty. The show was George and Ira Gershwin’s Strike Up the Band, a demented anti-war satire that closed out of town in 1927 and eventually limped onto Broadway in 1930. Encores! revived the musical in 1998, with a cast that included Philip Bosco, Kristin Chenoweth, Jason Danieley, Judy Kuhn, and Lynn Redgrave.

CITY CENTER: Why Strike Up the Band?
DAVID IVES: Fun, pure and simple. A fun cast. The verve of the music and the wackiness of some of the lyrics. In terms of the book, Kaufman’s anarchy spoke to me, as did his satire. Neither of those elements tends to be commercial—in fact I believe this is show that caused Kaufman to say that satire is what closes on Saturday night. The script is the kind of free-associational Marx Brothers-ish humor one doesn’t often find in Broadway musicals, though Book Of Mormon recently came close. I also took a very free hand in adapting Strike Up The Band, bolstered by the fact that it lasted only a few performances in 1927, suggesting that the show needed help. So I helped. While I’m on it I may as well mention a story. After the failure of the show Kaufman went down to Florida and was on the beach when an irate man cornered him and said he’d been an investor on the show and had lost a lot of money. Unfortunately the guy kept addressing Kaufman as “Mr. Gershwin,” apparently under the impression that George S. Kaufman was George Gershwin. “Why,” the man begged him, “why didn’t it work, Mr. Gershwin?” Kaufman gave in, and shrugged. “Kaufman,” he said, “gave me a lousy book.”

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January 30, 2017 by New York City Center

Michael John LaChiusa, Daryl Waters, Rachel Chavkin, Dave Malloy, and Michael Friedman share a laugh at Encores! Unscripted. (Sara Robillard)

Mark Twain, Tolstoy, and Tupac. All are untouchable; the idea of adapting their work into Broadway musicals would seem to be (at best) hubristic and (at worst) irredeemably loony. Luckily, that didn’t stop Big River composer Roger Miller—or Dave Malloy and Rachel Chavkin, whose giddy riff on War and Peace is Broadway’s latest smash. It also didn’t stop Michael John LaChiusa, who has whipped everything from Giant to Rashomon into the musical theater form, or Daryl Waters, who helped shape the raps of Tupac Shakur into Holler If Ya Hear Me.

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January 25, 2017 by New York City Center
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