"You want everything to run as long as it can," says the one-time theatre critic who holds the job of creative director at Jujamcyn Theaters. The position has developed from creating projects to fill the company's Broadway houses to more of traffic control. "My job has become much more that of a handicapper — let's book this one, let's not book that one — which is much less creative."
Luckily for Viertel, he enjoys a "moonlighting" gig to satisfy his right brain. As artistic director of City Center Encores!, Viertel is at the end of a galvanizing season which presented three works around one central theme: the revue.
"This idea came about because it happened to be the 100th anniversary of the Ziegfeld Follies, and I happened to have revue material in my head and I always wanted to do Face The Music, which is a show about a revue. It all just sort of fell together."
Will the company continue to plan seasons around a theme? "I don't know," Viertel responds. "We're actually in the season-planning phase now, and we haven't gotten very far yet. There's a part of me that thinks we should just turn around and do an absolutely traditional Encores! season. There's another part of me that thinks if we could find another theme, that would be fun. I think the liability with themed seasons is that you're going to ultimately trap yourself. If you have to come up with a theme every year, you're going to start coming up with less and less rational themes. So my guess is we'll do it when we come up with what we think is a worthy idea and when we don't, we won't."
The perpetual question for Encores! shows — due to the success of Chicago — is "Will the show transfer to Broadway?" The level-headed artistic director replies, "I always think there's no way that any show is going to transfer. What everyone forgets about the Chicago story is that the original show was written for a tiny band and no set, so that as an economic model, as a business model, it makes a lot of sense on Broadway in today's market. Something like Follies or Face the Music — which have 30 people in the orchestra, 30 people on stage — if you did them on Broadway, you'd have to introduce a level of scenic sophistication that we don't do at Encores! Why would anyone do that? That said, every now and then, one of them is going to surprise us. You can't build your life at Encores! around the idea of transferring something to Broadway, and we don't. It's never even a consideration when we do our season planning." The dichotomy of his work at Jujamcyn and Encores! is certainly clear when he says, "One of the really nice things about Encores! is we play five performances. And, I don't want to have to choose shows on the basis that they need to have a mass audience. The whole point is to do shows that don't."
This year, Encores! will launch its inaugural Summer Stars series with a production of Gypsy starring Tony and Olivier winner Patti LuPone in July. Expanding upon the Encores! series with "more fully-realized productions of memorable shows," Summer Stars will offer "leading actors [who] get the chance to play roles they were born to play," according to a recent press announcement.
The origin of the series is rather simple, Viertel explained. "It came about, in a funny way actually, because City Center for many years had never had the opportunity to redo its air conditioning system, and it became more and more in disrepair. Then they got a grant over a three-summer period to replace the HVAC system. And suddenly, as of this summer, we can be open. So I said, 'Great! Let's find something to do.' That's the type of business we're in."