Fiorello! was first -- LaGuardia would have liked it that way.
Back in 1994, Encores! first graced the City Center stage with its high minded, high profile attempt at bringing back classic American theatre scores without the high costs of an actual Broadway mounting. Artistic director Walter Bobbie (who would reign three years, then be succeeded by Kathleen Marshall) and musical director Rob Fisher attracted a star cast including Donna McKechnie, Faith Prince and Jerry Zaks, and -- another soon-to-be staple for the series -- a book revisement by John Weidman. (David Ives would later make a career of this.)
This staging was only the beginning for Encores!, which would, over the next seven seasons, give theatregoers a chance to hear a classic, but rarely staged musical from some of the theatre's greatest musical writers: Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Kurt Weill, to name a few. Sure, the stars -- and there have been many, from Patti LuPone, Rebecca Luker and Donna Murphy to Martin Short, Peter Gallagher and Brian Stokes Mitchell -- carry around script books and work with minimal blocking. But there are still big dance numbers and a full, thirty piece orchestra known as the Coffee Club Orchestra.
With only a week's rehearsal and only a weekend's worth of performances, Encores! has brought to life Allegro, Call Me Madam, Pal Joey, One Touch of Venus, Promises, Promises, Strike Up The Band, Babes in Arms and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, among many others.
But one show stands out highest in the mind of an Encores! fan -- the1996 smash hit, Chicago, which transferred to a commercial production and forever cemented the series' reputation for excellence. Now in its fourth year on Broadway, the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical has gone through celebrity stars (Bebe Neuwirth and Anne Reinking started the show off) and is still running strong. Encores! hasn't finished with Broadway yet, either. There are rumors that the 2000 season's Wonderful Town, with stars Donna Murphy and Laura Benanti, may transfer to the Great White Way in the future.
And, of course, there's always the 2001 series.
-- By Christine Ehren