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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

An 1885 lithograph of Mark Twain performing onstage. (Joseph Ferdinand Keppler, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

We don’t remember Mark Twain as a man of the theater, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Twain worked as a theater critic and wrote scores of plays (most have been forgotten, although Is He Dead? made a belated Broadway debut in 2007 in an adaptation by longtime Encores! scribe David Ives). Twain was also a garrulous participant in countless amateur productions, in which he played knights, lovers, and bears. In anticipation of the Encores! revival of Big River, City Center spoke with Andrew Levythe author of Huck Finn’s Americaabout Twain’s love of theater, how he made his book tours into “performance art,” and the extent to which Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was conceived in theatrical terms.

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January 23, 2017 by New York City Center

Ron Richardson and Daniel Jenkins in the original Broadway production of Big River. (Martha Swope/©Billy Rose Theatre Division, NYPL for the Performing Arts)

This February, Roger Miller’s classic musical Big River will return to New York in an Encores! revival. Below, producer Rocco Landesman offers a rollicking account of the show’s unlikely creation.

“If I’d a knowed what trouble it was to enact this history I never would a tackled it.” We certainly didn’t know, my wife Heidi and I, what we were in for, as we drove from our home in Brooklyn to a rare Roger Miller concert at the Lone Star Cafe in lower Manhattan. Could Roger Miller, we wondered out loud, write a Broadway musical?

The American musical and country music, we had long felt, were much closer in form and spirit than was generally thought, with their emphasis on lyrics in the service of storytelling and hummable melodies. Roger, I knew with total certainty, was a genius, the greatest American songwriter; he could do anything.

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January 17, 2017 by New York City Center

John Kander, photographed by Carolyn Cole for the Los Angeles Times in 2015.

John Kander has debilitating stage fright—which is ironic, given how many Kander & Ebb musicals have focused on the lives of spotlight-hungry stage creatures. (Roxie Hart! Velma Kelly! Sally Bowles!) But Kander’s songs are not him. “I don’t play in the show-business pen very much,” he explains. Years ago, when he was introduced to Shirley MacLaine at a party, she eyed him beadily and said, “You’re not in show business, are you?” Kander, knowing what she meant, replied, “I guess not.”

The truth is that—at 89—Kander is more devoted to the theater than ever. He’s juggling four new projects, including Kid Victory (soon to be seen at the Vineyard) and an all-waltzing musical that Susan Stroman is developing. We spoke with Kander as part of My Dream Encores! Show, a series of conversations with artists about the neglected musicals they love. His pick: the 1997 Kander & Ebb show Steel Pier, an ethereal fable about a stunt pilot who returns from the dead and enters a Depression-era dance marathon.

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December 22, 2016 by New York City Center

Snowflakes waltzing in the original 1954 production of The Nutcracker; choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust; photo by Alfred Eisenstadt

George Balanchine created The Nutcracker as an idyllic snowglobe ode to his St. Petersburg youth—but when the ballet made its world premiere at City Center, the atmosphere backstage was anything but idyllic. In 2007, Robert Sandla spoke with veterans of the first Nutcracker about the ballet’s hectic creation and its extraordinary survival. We’re delighted to reprint the article now, as New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker enjoys another holiday season. (A few relics from the 1954 premiere—including the Grandmother’s cape—still appear onstage.)

Americans didn’t know The Nutcracker in 1954. Or rather, what people knew was the Nutcracker Suite, a greatest-hits set of divertissements from the full-length Tchaikovsky ballet. Walt Disney put his marketing muscle behind it with Fantasia in 1940, and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo bourréed across America with various versions of the Suite in the 1940s. The first full-length professional Nutcracker in this country wasn’t presented until 1944, when Willam Christensen created one for San Francisco Ballet.

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December 16, 2016 by New York City Center
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