Encores! has announced its 2000 series of musicals-in-concert. As reported in the New York Times, they are:
*Hair, the landmark 1968 rock musical about Vietnam, hippies and the '60s in general.
*A Connecticut Yankee, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's 1927 tuner about a modern-day man who finds himself in King Arthur's Court.
*Bloomer Girl, a little known 1944 Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg work about women's rights and abolition.
*Bloomer Girl recently received a rare revival at the hands of Cotton Blossom Musicals, a Manhattan troupe devoted to socially-aware musical works. The tuner about women's rights, a northern family, a Kentucky suitor and a runaway slave, set on the eve of The Civil War, serves some of Harburg's tartest lyrics, including the cult favorite, "The Eagle and Me," sung by a hopeful slave who believes "whatever is right for bumblebee and beaver and eagle is right for me." Stephen Sondheim has praised the song as one of his favorites. "Right as the Rain" became a standout popular song, living on over the years as the score grew more obscure.
The revival (which played through Sept. 24) was billed as the first New York staging of the show since its Broadway original, when Celeste Holm, hot from Oklahoma! starred as Evelina, the fictitious niece of Dolly Bloomer, the publisher of The Lily, an early feminist and abolitionist publication. Evelina's father is a prominent hoopskirts manufacturer. The action centers around Dolly and Evelina's attempts to end the wearing of hoopskirts in favor of the much less confining and inhibiting bloomers. The show also shows the women's efforts to help an escaped slave to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
The musical ran 654 performances and was considered groundbreaking for its attempt to tell a socially relevant story within the frame of a musical comedy (Harburg did it a few years later, too, with Finian's Rainbow and Flahooley). The libretto is by Sig Herzig & Fred Saidy. Agnes de Mille choreographed the original staging, which included "The Civil War Ballet."
In other Encores! news, the first cast for the new City Center Voices! series, which will spotlight plays, has been revealed. Joanne Woodward, Edward Herrmann and Alec Baldwin will star in Joseph Kesselring's Arsenic and Old Lace, Nov. 11. Baldwin is the producer of the series.
The inaugural roster will also feature: Jules Feiffer's Little Murders, Jan. 30, 2001; and Stephen Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster, March 13. Baldwin will star in all three readings, while Steve Lawson will direct.
As with the Encores! series, the Voices! readings will feature minimal production values and a cast of recognizable names. "Every time I watch Encores!, I'm carried away by the excitement onstage and in the audience," Baldwin told Variety (Aug. 24). "As an actor, I long to be a part of it, but I don't dance and I don't sing. So I thought: What if we offered audiences plays in a similar format."
--By Robert Simonson
and Kenneth Jones