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Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in the original Broadway production of Sunday in the Park with George; photo by Martha Swope/©Billy Rose Theatre Division, NYPL for the Performing Arts

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece is coming to City Center next week in a series of benefit concerts starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford. We looked back at how the show was written, how it revolutionized musical theater, and how it taught a generation of artists to move on.

“When I first hear a song sung, I’m worried that I’m going to be embarrassed by what I wrote,” said Stephen Sondheim while Sunday in the Park with George was in previews. “So I try to postpone the moment.” The quote is endearing, and more than a little absurd, coming from the patron saint of musical theater—but in early 1984, Sondheim hadn’t quite hit apotheosis. His previous musical, Merrily We Roll Along, had closed on Broadway after a disastrous 16-performance run, prompting such giddy theater-world schadenfreude that Sondheim considered abandoning Broadway to write mystery novels or video games.

Then salvation came—in the form of a Pointillist masterpiece. In June 1982, Sondheim began a tentative collaboration with James Lapine, a young Off-Broadway playwright. In search of a subject, they began rifling through photographs and paintings, one of which was Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

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October 19, 2016 by New York City Center


Liz Gerring, Pam Tanowitz, and Michelle Dorrance, photographed by Matt Karas.

At City Center, what you see onstage is just the beginning. Behind the back wall of the theater is a hive of creative activity: nine stories of rehearsal rooms, offices, and dance studios that were inaugurated by Balanchine in the 1940s. You might find the likes of Twyla Tharp, Wendy Whelan, and Kyle Abraham rehearsing there on a given afternoon. This season, three acclaimed choreographers will take up residence, thanks to City Center’s Choreography Fellowship program: Liz Gerring, Pam Tanowitz, and Michelle Dorrance.

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October 13, 2016 by New York City Center


Damian Woetzel, Ron Myles, and Lil Buck in rehearsal in Vail, photographed by Patrick Fraser.

For just over two weeks every summer, an illustrious and varied ensemble of dancers, musicians, and choreographers come together in the spectacular Rocky Mountains to present the Vail International Dance Festival. The level of creativity is as heady as the altitude, with artists throwing themselves into unexpected collaborations and taking on unfamiliar repertory, creating world premieres in a condensed timeframe and with an adventurous sense of possibility.

“Beautiful place, tons of collaborations, amazing dancers, and a huge mesh of cultures,” is how Lil Buck, the astounding Memphis jooker, sums up the Vail vibe. This November, Lil Buck will be among the many Vail mainstays headed east for Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC, presented by New York City Center. A star-studded four-day extravaganza, ReMix will capture the unique collaborative energy that has become Vail’s signature under artistic director Damian Woetzel.

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October 4, 2016 by New York City Center


Leonard Bernstein rehearsing in City Center’s studios.

For three years in the 1940s, Leonard Bernstein led “the youngest, poorest symphony in the world” at New York City Center. Working without a salary, Bernstein brought a daring assortment of symphonic works to the masses: Marc Blitzstein and Alex North premiered new works, celebrity pals like Orson Welles, Benny Goodman, and Paul Wittgenstein made guest appearances, and the 75¢ ticket price attracted working stiffs who yelled “Hello, Lenny!” from the second balcony when their maestro came onstage. One critic called it a “love feast,” and Bernstein never forgot that love. “I had the best time of my life there,” he said in 1983. “I cut my teeth as a conductor there.” We decided to look back at Bernstein’s salad days at City Center, which began on his 27th birthday: August 25, 1945.

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August 25, 2016 by New York City Center


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
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