Is the new Will Eno play The Realistic Joneses – starring Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Marisa Tomei & Michael C Hall – going to unpack the emotional and psychological impact of attempting to ‘Keep Up With the Joneses?’

Hell if we know. But we do know that all our friends are obsessed with playwright Will Eno – making his Broadway debut with this play – and we want to be cool like them. You should too.

One way to do that? Attending the new play’s final dress on March 12th, the night before it opens to plebian paying audiences. Then you can tell everyone how far ahead of the curve you were.

How can you get yourself invited to this final dress, you ask? Simple. Enter our contest. We’ve got a pair of passess to give away to one lucky reader.

How can you enter? Well, that’s simple, too. Just follow the instructions below.

    1. Clear your calendar for Wednesday, March 12th.
    2. Make sure you follow @thecraptacular and then tweet, or RT, the following loverly phrase:

    Hey, @thecraptacular, I’m Jones-ing to see Will Eno’s Bway debut (@RealisticBway) a whole day before it opens! RT & follow to win.

    3. Prepare yourself for unimpeachable coolness/keep your eyes glued to our Twitter feed. We’ll announce a winner tomorrow afternoon.

BOOM. Good luck keeping up with the Joneses. Or at least, with our really cool friends.

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The Mick (l) and Lucky (r) say some things on stage at LPR.



They say it takes a village to raise a child. You know what else takes a village? Producing a concert. Which is kind of an appropriate comparison, given the fact that wrangling a show to life on stage, in the moment of wrangling, feels very  much like corralling a dearly-loved but extremely rambunctious and stubborn toddler into a snowsuit.

If you’re us, that village includes a co-producer who knows literally everything (including how to talk you off a ledge six times a day), a director who knows basically everyone and is so hot he makes you feel more attractive by osmosis, and a music director who is a literal genius and has some of the world’s most ridiculously talented musicians for friends. It also includes a passel of actors who are more generous than you have any right to expect, and smarter, more talented, and more charming than anyone has a right to be.

In the days leading up to Feels Like the First Time it honestly felt like I’d never done anything so stressful in my entire life. That’s maybe untrue. I was pretty stressed when I graduated college and still didn’t have a job, or more than $200 to my name. I routinely juggle multiple projects for Fortune 500 clients at once while still trying to keep this website alive, and occasionally do boneheaded things like staying out until 4 am the morning of the biggest creative pitch meeting of my life, but shh, don’t tell my boss.

Maybe it’s just that this was a whole new kind of stress. And every time we turned around, every time we solved one problem, there was another waiting for us.

Found someone you trust who knows all the things about concert producing? Sweet. Now you need a director. Score someone who gets your vision — and even enhances it — to direct your show? Wonderful. Now you need a music director. Find someone ridiculously talented who loves your idea and has the time to arrange and make charts for all the songs? Great. Now you need a venue. And a date that doesn’t conflict with the team’s schedule, or too many of the other 10,000 cabaret concerts happening in the city of New York on any given night. And then you need a band. And a cast of brilliant, compelling actors who all also happen to be free for the days surrounding your concert so they can be in your show and rehearse and stuff and things. And who don’t get called away last minute for pilot season.

And even once all that is set, there’s like… questions about how to set the instruments up on the stage. And transporting heavy, expensive synthesizers, and worst of all, selling tickets, which can be really, really hard. You better pray it doesn’t snow. And don’t forget to print big set lists before the show, not just for your musicians, but for the lighting designer and the booth crew and your MC who like… needs to know what’s happening when. Because if you do, you’ll end up running around Greenwich Village at 4:30 pm with your big over-styled hair and sparkly evening makeup, buying a notebook, and a sharpie, and finding a place to make copies all looking like you’re on an extremely crazed walk of shame. People will stare.

But if you’re lucky. Really, really lucky — and we so were — those amazing people who agreed to help you put on your show will, at the moments you most need them, pick up the ball you feel like you’re about to drop and sprint it across the goal line. Your director will take a cast of relative strangers and make them feel like a team. Your music director will fill the room with music so lush you can hardly stand it. Your MC will be so pitch-perfect, so off-the-cuff and hilarious and quick on his toes that you can’t imagine the night without him. And you.

You will sit down at the back  – all the questions finally answered, the show finally a real thing happening before you — and you will cry. Because each and every person who sets foot on that stage will knock it out of the park. They will tell stories that make you laugh and cry, and sing songs that tear at your heartstrings or blow your mind. They will take risks, like accompanying themselves on piano in public for the first time, or  confessing about a terrible date. And they will do it all with grace and aplomb and more fucking talent than you can even possibly imagine having. They will chat with you about YA novels one minute and then get up on stage and turn on some superhuman light within, and become this other thing, this super-elite artist at the very top of their game, with heart and vulnerability and enough star power to keep the world spinning. They will make sly Grindr jokes and you will almost die of happiness.

And in those moments, when the show is so perfectly yours — so perfectly the thing you’ve dreamt of for years — and so perfectly not yours at all, because it belongs to the audience now, and the universe, too, so much bigger than you could ever be… all that stress will have been worthwhile.

Feels Like the First Time was a dream come true for us. The generosity of our team, from co-producer Katie Riegel, director Colin Hanlon, and music director Stephen Oremus, through each and every musician and actor who gave us some of their precious time, was deeply incredible. We helped a sweet little boy and his family weather a really shitty time in their lives, and we put on a great show to boot.

Every time Lucky and I look back at the show, we have a new favorite moment, a new favorite song. When you work with that many stars, it’s kind of impossible for every moment not to be incredible. The very minute we have video, we’ll be shouting about it from the rooftops. But for now, at least, here’s an album of fucking gorgeous pictures of gorgeous people to click through to get a taste of that glorious night.

And thank you. To anyone who helped us — whether it was talking us through something or putting programs on all the tables. To all of the brilliant people who were a part of our show. And to anyone who found the time to come by and cheer those stars on. You are all rock stars. Or Broadway stars. Or both! Like Billie Joe Armstrong.



ps. Shoutout to our ridiculous, ridiculous band. Without them none of this would have been nearly as gloriously beautiful: Mat Fieldes, Jake Schwartz, Allison Seidner, Gary Seligson, Adam Souza and Hiroko Taguchi.

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I loved the book Mozart in the Jungle. A tell-all about the sordid offstage universe of classical music, it made headlines in 2005 for exactly one reason: In it, author Blair Tindall — a classical oboist — claims that she had sex with Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart while he was married. The book also takes the decidedly unsexy, but no less controversial stance that there should actually be less classical music education, not more, in keeping with shrinking audiences and arts budgets. If you think I was going to skip that, you hardly know me, friend. Likewise, I wasn’t about to skip the pilot of the TV version, which was produced by Amazon.com and can be viewed there for free.

The small-screen Mozart in the Jungle is significantly updated and fictionalized, so its references feel more contemporary. (Keith Lockhart, at 54, isn’t quite as compelling as he once was.) But the emphasis on sex, drugs, and profanity remains. I should also note that Alex Timbers is one of the show’s writers, which should more or less guarantee it a certain degree of insouciant, hip, shaggy-haired genius, right?

Well… sort of.

In the pilot, we first meet Hailey, a talented young oboist trying to make it in New York’s cutthroat classical world by giving lessons to bratty kids and moonlighting in the pit of a Broadway show. She is soon befriended by seasoned cellist Cynthia, who plays in the fictional New York Symphony, and is sleeping with the outgoing maestro and lots of other popele that she recounts, checklist style, assessing their sexual style based on the instruments they play. The aging maestro, Thomas, is feeling bitter about his handsome young replacement, Rodrigo, the probably-Italian, possibly-Latin-American young upstart whose character is rather transparently based on real-life L.A. Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel. How transparently? If you check IMDB right now, the character’s name is listed as Gustavo — making me wonder if the Mozart creators were feeling so audacious about their character inspiration that they actually considered giving him the same name. Even if it’s a typo, it’s an easy one to understand.

If this sounds like a jumble of blatant stereotypes — of newbies, aging pros, and greasy foreigners — that’s because it is. And this is why Mozart in the Jungle, even from its first episode, strikes terror into my poor arts-obsessed heart. Because right out of the gate, it’s reminding me of… I shudder to type the word… Smash. Oh god, Smash! The recently-departed soap opera of idiotic Broadway doom. In its worst moments, Mozart in the Jungle feels like its dopey classical music cousin.

The show seems to have Smash‘s broad-strokes character development problem where all the men are buffoons and all the women fall neatly into their virgin/whore archetypes without so much as a blink. (If you need guidance on the latter, check the lipstick color.) It also immediately staggers into a Smash-like believability problem that has its characters gossiping onstage while they take their bows, loudly denouncing each other in front of rooms of important people, and turning down sex with exceptionally good looking prospects. It just doesn’t ring true. I sense that the writers are trying to put us into an exaggerated universe here, but the tone isn’t protracted enough to feel genuinely otherworldly (think Kevin Spacy talking directly to the audience in House of Cards). Plus, Tindall’s memoir bears no hints of exaggeration — which is the very thing that made it fascinating in the first place. All of the drinking, drugging, and fucking seemed pretty much real.

The Rodrigo character in particular poses a major problem, and for one reason: The real Gustavo Dudamel’s life is completely fascinating. He rose up from abject poverty and hails from one of the most violent and corrupt nations on earth. His body guards and associates have been gunned down and kidnapped in the streets of Caracas. He is clearly a prodigy, even while he and his mentors consistently play this down, owing his success to his training in Venezuela’s famous, publicly-funded youth symphonies. His homeland’s national policy and rhetoric is aggressively anti-American, even while he enjoys celebrity status here. He is forever smiling, beloved by his colleagues in all corners of the globe, and, at the same time, silent or diversionary about anything that bears even the remotest whiff of politics.

Why can’t somebody make me a TV show about all that? Because I want to watch it. What I actually don’t really want to watch is a cartoon version of a complicated man like Dudamel, with his hair and accent played for laughs. Just like Jeremy Jordan’s spotty real-life childhood, even given what little we know of it, is a thousand times more intriguing than Jimmy Collins’s pallid little drug-and-shoplifting problem, so the story of the real Gustavo Dudamel is infinitely more powerful than whatever this show is going to conjure up. The choice to spoof him here is a lazy misstep — a cynical grab at a “known” classical music name to replace the real-life Lockhart affair. The trouble with that? Anyone who recognizes Gustavo Dudamel also knows that Rodrigo is lame by comparison, even when he’s being played by someone as handsome as Gael Garcia Bernal.

Still, there are moments when Mozart in the Jungle‘s goofball tone works like a charm — and indicates that the show could have some real promise. The one moment that had me laughing my face off wasn’t Rodrigo’s antics, but at the portrayal of the Broadway musical where Hailey works. It’s called Oedipus Rocks: The Styx Musical, and it stars Constantine Maroulis (REALLY) and has its toga-clad leading man gyrating with showgirls as he sings “Come Sail Away.” That’s so brilliant that it only could have been Alex Timbers’s idea. It’s also so utterly on-the-nose in its absurdity that it could be real. It will probably be on Broadway next season, so brace yourself for that.

If only the whole show had the courage to leap at such dastardly inside jokes as that one. If it does in subsequent episodes, it might be kind of awesome. If it doesn’t, we indeed have the classical version of Smash — a show that seems to suck life out of live performance and its personalities, literally reducing them to flatness and smallness. For those of us who consistently crave a good story about our stories, here’s hoping that Mozart in the Jungle can do better.

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So, we’re having a concert on February 10 – holy shit that’s tonight – at Le Poisson Rouge wherein your favorite Broadway stars tell stories and sing songs about their personal famous firsts — first gigs, first performances, first onstage catastrophes. It’s going to be the best thing that ever happened to you, so we highly suggest that you purchase yourself some tickets. Also, because it’s for a really excellent cause.

We had a rehearsal for this concert yesterday and wow, that was fun. Stephen Oremus, who is adorable, led the band and played some genius piano and things like that. Kyle Dean Massey showed up and we all started laughing because we honestly kind of can’t believe that human beings can actually look that perfect at like, noontime on a sunday in sweatpants. Julia Murney belted like crazy. Ben Platt made us fall more in love with him than we already are. Tony Sheldon is so charming that we all cried and it’s not even the real show yet, and Nikki M. James now has a cheerleading squad and it is us. Wearing Nikki M. James Is AWESOME t-shirts. Here are some photos.

And if you do come on down tomorrow, please do say hello! We like chatting. And Broadway. And all that jazz. See you at Le Poisson Rouge!

P.S. Darius De Haas isn’t in our show, but we ran into him in the elevator today and he’s amazing, so he gets a photo.

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It’s at (Le) Poisson Rouge on February 10th and it’s going to be so amazing we don’t even have words. Sometimes we get so excited we cry a little bit when we think about it.

You have to come. No, seriously.

Here are some reasons why:

1. It has hot peeps.

2. It’s across the street from Lucky’s house. She might invite you over after if you’re cute and smart and nice.

3. It’s for a sweet boy. His name is Cameron and he’s 3 and he has cancer and we want to help him get — and stay — well.

4. There’s an unexpected duet we can’t tell you about because it’s a surprise

5. Also, Stephen Handsome Oremus.

6. Also, also Colin Hottie Hanlon.

7. No really, it’s for the sweetest boy who needs our help.

8. And we have a Fiyero as all good, and bad, girls should.

9. Sex. There will be sex. Or at least talk of it. And some gender-bending.

10. We have Tony winners. And Crutchie. And Eponine. And Babet. And also, a two-time Grammy winner.

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR TICKETS, FOOLS. WHAT MORE ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Also. We’ll probably get drunk and kiss you on your face.  So. That’s something to look forward to.

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This week, Encores! kicks off its 21st season with Little Me, a jazzy musical comedy — emphasis on comedy — which features a hysterical book by Neil Simon specifically crafted around the talents of original star Sid Caesar, who played seven different roles in the show. Christian Borle steps into all of those roles for the Encores! production, but before the curtain goes up at City Center, let’s take a look back at the history of this show.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to impress/bore your friends/enemies at parties/piano bars with Broadway trivia, Little Me is right up your alley. Based on a book by Patrick Dennis — who you might remember as both a character in Mame and the author of,  Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, the novel it’s based on – Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen, and Television Belle Poitrine as told to Patrick Dennis. (Does that make Little Me an unofficial sequel to Mame?) The novel, a satire on the self-indulgent celebrity autobiography that has never gone out of style, was built around a series of humorous photographs taken by Cris Alexander. You might remember Alexander as Chip in the original production of On The Town, or for his  roles in the original stage and film casts of Auntie Mame.

Little Me, the musical, was the first musical Neil Simon ever wrote, a task that teamed him up with both his old boss Sid Caesar and his good friend Bob Fosse. While Caesar starred in the show, Fosse co-directed it along with Cy Feurer, who you may know as the producer of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (which Fosse had choreographed the previous year). In the future Simon would, of course, go on to write a play about Sid Caesar (Laughter on the 23rd Floor) and work again with Fosse on Sweet Charity. Even further into the future, a lovely bit of circularity would lead Martin Short to star in both the most recent Broadway revival of Simon’s first musical Little Me and an Encores! production of his last musical, Promises, Promises.

Anyway. Producers Cy Feurer and Ernest Martin first saw the potential in the novel version of Little Me and bought the property for Caesar. Fresh off producing Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed…, they were at the height of their producing game for Broadway musical comedy. At the time, Neil Simon was relatively untested, having only one play (Come Blow Your Horn) under his belt, but Caesar knew his work, so he was in. Composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Carolyn Leigh also only had one show under their belts—Wildcat, a vehicle for Lucille Ball that produced one hit song, “Hey, Look Me Over” which these days is better known as the LSU fight song. But it was clear they knew how to write a song and how to handle a star, so they fit the project just fine.

Simon kept very little from Dennis’s book beyond the structure (poor girl marries her way to wealth and social position through a series of husbands who meet untimely ends) and a few characters. To further emphasize the enormity of Caesar’s stardom—and the ways in which Belle Poitrine (which is French for “beautiful tits”) is constantly overshadowed by the men in her life—Simon split the leading lady role in half, with Nancy Andrews playing the mature Belle looking back on her younger self, portrayed by Virginia Martin.

Other than Feurer and Martin, Fosse was the most established Broadway name of the bunch, and his contributions included a set piece called “Rich Kids Rag” that used period dancing to set the entire plot in motion, establishing Belle as the outsider who just wants to get in, and “I’ve Got Your Number,” which flipped the Broadway convention of a strip tease number on its ear by giving the strip to a man, played by Swen Swenson. (No, he didn’t get naked, but he did the kind of seductive dance that so won over audiences that Sid Caesar got jealous.)

Despite strong reviews and a television star in the lead, Little Me ran for less than a year in 1962-1963. There are a number of reasons it wasn’t a runaway hit. First, Caesar was struggling with alcohol abuse, which is never a great recipe for consistent performances. Second, some speculated that audiences were disappointed to see him playing roles so different from his television persona as well. But the strangest and most likely reason for the short run of the show is that producer Ernie Martin refused to advertise it. This approach had served their previous hit, How to Succeed…, very well, but that’s because How to Succeed was the kind of phenomenal success that didn’t need advertising (think Wicked or Book of Mormon).

Regardless, Little Me garnered great reviews and turned a profit, and perhaps most importantly for the songwriting team, produced a number of songs that have had life outside the show, including “Real Live Girl,” “I’ve Got Your Number,” “The Other Side of the Tracks,” and “Here’s To Us,” the latter a favorite song of Judy Garland’s that was played at her funeral.

So, the following year the show went to London, where a different television comedian, Bruce Forsyth, took on the roles Sid Caesar played on Broadway. Now, it’s not uncommon for American shows to get tweaked for British audiences, although this is usually confined to adjusting rhymes that no longer work in a British accent or occasionally changing or adding a song to suit the specific talents of the British cast. But in the case of Little Me, a British lyricist, Herbert Kretzmer, was hired to do a wholesale overhaul on the show. Kretzmer reset it in England, changed character names, and rewrote large chunks of lyrics. (For example, it was decided that “On The Other Side of the Tracks” was an American idiom that wouldn’t translate, so the song was rewritten as “At the Very Top of the Hill.”) In fact, when lyricist Carolyn Leigh got wind of these changes, she furiously demanded they be changed back. Eventually, she reached a compromise with the producers, allowing Kretzmer’s lyrics to stay in the show as long as Leigh’s appeared on the cast recording. That’s more or less what happened, although sharp ears can still pick out a number of Kretzmer’s contributions on the (hard to find) London cast recording. Incidentally, decades later Kretzmer would perform a similar role on a little French import called Les Miserables and become a very wealthy man.

Little Me has been revived on both sides of the pond a number of times since, and each has production fiddled with the book and score in its own way. A flop production on Broadway in the early 80s split the Sid Caesar roles between two actors, Victor Garber and James Coco, and changed the framing device: while the original featured a wealthy Belle narrating her autobiography to writer Patrick Dennis, the revival gave us a Belle who was a down on her luck cabaret singer, narrating the story of her life to her audience. Two new songs were added, some older songs were cut, and the show lasted exactly one month. Nevertheless, this new version was produced in London (although with the original conceit of one star playing six male roles), where it racked up 334 performances and had the longest run of any Little Me production. Then in 1998, The Roundabout created yet another version for a revival featuring Martin Short playing all the roles Sid Caesar played (plus one he didn’t), opposite Faith Prince who played both Old and Young Belle. That last change required a rethinking of the title song in the style of Kay Thompson, which gave Faith a team of boys to sing backup.

When the curtain goes up on the Encores! production this week, it will be the first time the original book, score, and orchestrations of Little Me will be heard in New York since, well… the original production. Joining Christian Borle in the cast are Judy Kaye (Tony winner for Nice Work If You Can Get It and The Phantom of the Opera) as the elder Belle and Rachel York (who stole the show right out from under Megan Hilty two years ago when Encores! did Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) as young Belle. Shockingly, this is the first Cy Coleman score to get the Encores! treatment, although Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel explained that was mostly due to the popularity of Coleman’s shows: the rights to most of his best are tied up with producers hoping to bring commercial revivals to town. (Roundabout has been talking about On the Twentieth Century for years, and rumors of a Barnum revival seem to pop up every so often, but we want to know when we’ll get City of Angels back on the main stem.)

When Encores! presented Neil Simon’s Promises, Promises years ago, Simon himself prepared the concert adaptation of the book. This time, Viertel does the honors, although he said, “I’m doing almost nothing. I’m trimming stuff that’s impossible to do on our stage. It’s simply overloaded with props and business and tandem bicycles and steam baths and things we simply can’t put on our stage. The adaptation isn’t so much adapting but more a trimming away of the physical parts of the show that are impossible to execute.”

The show has a reputation for being one of Broadway’s funniest, and the Ralph Burns orchestrations feature brass arrangements that are sure to blow the top off of City Center. But Encores! shows happen quickly, so you’ll only have five days (February 5 – 9) to check it out.

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In December, we hung out backstage before Drew Gasparini’s first gig at 54 Below kicking asses and taking names asking questions and making people play games with us. One of the people we made play a game with us? Lolo, or, as we theater folk know her, Lauren Pritchard.

Take a gander at our game of Theater M.A.S.H. Drew will probably be pretty upset that he’s been ousted for Shaun White, but I mean, obviously gingers always win.

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Love Broadway musicals but hate having to sit through all that talking between the songs? You’re in luck. In the next couple of months, you can catch the New York Philharmonic doing Sweeney Todd in Concert, Lincoln Center hosting Titanic in Concert, Carnegie Hall offering Guys and Dolls in Concert, and 54 Below with concert revivals of Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Side Show on deck. But most importantly, the 21st season of Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert kicks off with Little Me the first week of February. Believe it or not, once upon a time, concert productions of older shows didn’t fill our concert halls and nightclubs. There was the occasional Kern or Gershwin show dusted off at Carnegie Hall or the Library of Congress, and starry casts came together for special events like Follies in Concert, but they were just that—special events.

When the curtain rose on Encores! in 1994, with a season featuring Fiorello! (a Pulitzer Prize-winning show by the team who wrote Fiddler on the Roof), Allegro (the Rodgers & Hammerstein flop that inspired Stephen Sondheim to become Stephen Sondheim), and Lady in the Dark (the Kurt Weill/Moss Hart musical drama of psychoanalysis that produced two standards, “My Ship” and “The Saga of Jenny,”) Broadway musicals in concert moved from “special event” to annual traditions. Although Encores! has inspired many imitators, it remains in a class by itself. The Encores! shows have become an annual tradition for many theatergoers. In fact, before I moved to New York, I was already an Encores! subscriber, and it was at a brunch with fellow fans before  one of those shows that I first met Lucky and The Mick, cementing my love affair with The Craptacular. Indeed, my first appearance on this site was to gush about Will Chase dancing with his dream doppelganger in the Encores! production of Pipe Dream. But I digress.

The history of Encores! is tied up with the history of City Center itself. Originally built as a home for The Shriners, the property fell into the hands of the city during the Great Depression and became a home to the performing arts in 1940. In its first two decades as an arts venue, City Center offered dance, opera, and revivals of popular musical theater pieces in equal measure. (Florence Henderson in South Pacific! Bob Fosse in Pal Joey!) When Lincoln Center came on the scene in the 1960s, City Center lost its resident opera and ballet companies. With the success of No, No, Nanette on Broadway in the 1970s, musical comedy revivals largely moved to the for-profit world of Broadway.  While dance companies continued to use the main stage, and the Manhattan Theatre Club moved into the property’s former basement banquet hall in the 1980s, big musicals were no longer part of the center, and City Center was no longer producing its own shows.

This changed under the leadership of Judith Daykin, who led City Center in the 1990s and dreamed up the Encores! series with Ted Chapin, head of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, and several friends and collaborators. I had the opportunity to chat with Jack Viertel, Encores! artistic director since 2001, about the history of the series and where it’s headed. Thinking back to those early years, he said, “It took up three weekends of the life of the institution [each year], and over the years it has grown. But my not so secret agenda is for it to grow even more. I would be happy if the building was split 50/50 between dance and musical theater.”

Viertel has overseen quite a bit of that growth, partnering with Jazz at Lincoln Center on biennial fall shows blending jazz and showtunes such as this year’s Wynton Marsalis/Stephen Sondheim collaboration A Bed and A Chair and 2011′s Cotton Club Parade (which became the current Broadway hit After Midnight) and inaugurating Encores! Off-Center, the summer series of off-Broadway musicals in concert that debuted this past summer under the artistic direction of Jeanine Tesori.

Many of the signature elements of Encores! were in place from those first shows: a cast of Broadway talent (no interlopers from the world of opera, pop, film, or tv), orchestra on stage outlined by a distinctive gold frame, full original orchestrations, and visible scripts in the hands of the performers. That first year, performances were introduced by celebrity presenters like Christopher Reeve (pre-paralysis) and Stephen Sondheim (post-deification), and when the shows required dancing, the cast took seats to focus attention on the orchestra, whose playing was accompanied by slides of the original productions.

Over time, Encores! has evolved, with the productions becoming more elaborate, the scripts becoming less visible, and the range of shows included becoming broader. (And, thanks to the 2010-2011 renovation of City Center, the sight lines have gotten better too.) As Viertel said to me, “There isn’t really a mission statement for Encores! It was originally called ‘Great American Musicals in Concert,’ which has a number of key words: American, Great, and Concert.” He  noted that over time, they’ve violated all three of those dictates, performing shows that weren’t great “but have great things about them,” moving from concert presentations to something that’s not quite a full production, but more to that side of the spectrum, and with this year’s inclusion of Irma La Douce, offering a show that began overseas, although Encores! will present the Broadway version.

“It’s an evolving mission,” Viertel said, “but it’s about hearing scores again, and hearing them in the ‘whole-est’ possible way. That means original orchestrations, ideally, or if they’re not available, colorful orchestrations in the character of the originals, discovering the scores are great as they are. It’s largely about the music.”

It’s this philosophy that justifies popular favorites like Hair and Bye Bye Birdie alongside obscurities like Sweet Adeline and The New Moon. Although Hair and Birdie get produced all the time—and both have returned to Broadway since their Encores! bows—only the Encores! productions presented the scores with the original orchestrations, as they were heard on their opening nights on Broadway.

Give the possibilities such a broad mandate opens up, Viertel has developed a bit of a formula to guide the building of each season, although he admits the criteria are loose. Each season attempts to offer three shows that are unlike each other, mixing older and newer shows, comedies and dramas, art pieces with entertaining ephemera. (You can certainly see that at play this year, which features a brassy Broadway comedy, a gigantic near-operatic drama, and a jazzy dance-filled chamber piece.) Beyond that? “There are two absolute requirements: one is that the rights are available and we have acquired them, which is not always true (they’re not always available), and we understand how we’re going to achieve the music,” said Viertel. “That could be as simple as taking it out of the box and putting it on the music stands, or it may require reorchestrating entirely, and we need to know in advance what those requirements are. We couldn’t, for example, reorchestrate two shows in one season, we don’t have the labor or the money.”

Despite the number of shows historically written around the talents of a specific star, casting in Encores! productions usually happens after the season is announced, with a couple of notable exceptions. “There have been shows, like The Apple Tree or Can-Can, where we’ve said if Kristin Chenoweth will do Apple Tree, we’ll do Apple Tree, but if not we’ll do some other show,” said Viertel. “In the case of [this season's] Irma La Douce specifically, [the title role] is sort of uncastable with a star. It’s a huge dance role. Elizabeth Seal, who did it originally, was the Gwen Verdon of England, and there is no such star any more. Even though it’s a big challenge, we were comfortable announcing and going with the best we can find. We wouldn’t have done that with Can-Can. We did Can-Can because of Patti LuPone.”

So what does the future of Encores! hold? Viertel is ambitious: “I think one of the things we’re very committed to is restoring more lost scores—I mean shows where there are no orchestrations that can be played. Part of that is pragmatic because we’ve now done almost 70 of these things, and we get into the ones where there’s reason we haven’t done them—there’s no music to put on music stands. We’re specifically raising money for restoration.

“I don’t know beyond that what specifically we’ll do. It’s interesting as you go through this process, and I’ve been doing it for 12 years: you think you’ve hit the end of something and you’ve actually just turned a corner, and there’s stuff you haven’t even imagined before.”

This year’s Encores! season kicks off in just a few weeks with the Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh/Neil Simon musical comedy Little Me, February 5 – 9, starring Christian Borle, Rachel York, and Judy Kaye. Learn more about Little Me in two weeks in the next installment of Remedial Queens.

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As ever, the world of theater lovers and creators continues to rail against “criticism” and “critics.” Because Isherwood and Brantley — and their ilk — are just big old meanies who hate theater.

This week the criticism argument flared up again, writers and thinkers both for and against composing lengthy treatises about whether or not critics should be critical, which is often just shorthand for ‘mean.’ (Ever heard anyone complain about a positive review they received?)  Today, HowlRound is even moderating a Twitter conversation about “Critical Generosity and the Spectre of Niceness.” In fact, it’s happening on the hashtag #newplay right now.

In honor of this moment, and as our contribution to the conversation, we’ve thrown together a short list to remind you of some of the other people subject to criticism (often harsh) if they don’t do their jobs well. In no particular order we have:

    1. Creative Directors (like The Mick!)
    2. Publishing Directors (like Lucky!)
    3. Janitors
    4. Teachers
    5. Baseball Players
    6. Doctors
    7. Lawyers
    8. Journalists
    9. Presidents/Prime Ministers
    10. Elected Officials
    11. House Painters
    12. Copywriters
    13. Used Car Salesmen
    14. Pop Stars

So just like… out of curiosity. Why shouldn’t playwrights, directors, actors, lighting designers and composers (etc) be subject to the same thing?

 

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To the shock of exactly no-one, Disney has confirmed that they’ll be bringing Frozen to the stage. Things are clearly still early days — there’s no mention of timeline, etc. –but let’s be real, their $700+ millions grossing animated flick basically IS a musical already (albeit a short one). In fact, anyone I know who didn’t like the movie complained that it “had too many songs.” So the precedent is in the material.

But seriously, I’m calling it now: Broadway, meet your new Wicked.

I mean. I may have to eat these words later, but it’s damn near impossible to imagine how Disney could cock things up enough to kill Frozen. Because, again… look at Wicked. That shit was pretty damn poorly received when it opened back in 2003, and here we stand, 10 years later, staring down million+ grosses at The Gershwin every week.

Why? Some reasons are probably cynical. “Oh, people only see that show because everyone else at home in Topeka told them to see that show.” or “Tickets cost so much no one wants to take a risk anymore.” Blah blah blah.

Really, though, here’s the biggest reason. Wicked is about the relationship between two women. Love, friendship, heartbreak, empowerment, growing up, growing together, growing apart — at its core, Wicked is about women.

Guess what Frozen is about, too? And guess who makes up a whopping 68% of the audience here on Broadway? That’s right. Women.

So keep trying to bring your Spider-Mans to Broadway. Your Rockys and Hands on a Hardbodys. Keep writing musicals mostly about men, trying to appeal to audiences of men.

And yes, go ahead, argue with me that those musicals were/are not trying to reach men.

In the meantime, over here in 2014, where men no longer control the family purse strings, Wicked and Frozen will be scooping up your audiences hand over fist. Because they know where it’s at.

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