In the beginning there was "Encores!," City Center's concert series of neglected musicals, presented in stripped-down stagings that emphasized the scores. The success of that program led to its Los Angeles equivalent, "Reprise!" Now Washington DC will get its own version of the idea when the Kennedy Center inaugurates "Words & Music" with a trio of overlooked musicals, July 16-Aug. 16.
Chosen for this "Celebration of American Musical Theatre" are Bells Are Ringing, Purlie and Where's Charley?.
[The Kennedy Center series is not to be confused with a Nov. 1997 series at NY's York Theatre, under the same title, that offered readings of plays on which famous musicals were based.]
Like its bi-coastal counterparts, the Kennedy Center's "Words & Music" program can import name players because the runs are so short, and because the on-book performers don't have to memorize dialogue or blocking.
As such, several stars have been lined up for all three shows in the series' first season. Bells Are Ringing (July 16-19) will star Faith Prince (Guys and Dolls, What's Wrong With This Picture?), alongside Joyce Van Patten (Labor Day) and Alan Campbell (Sunset Boulevard). The Comden & Green & Jule Styne musical features such tunes as "The Party's Over" and "It's A Simple Little System." Tina Landau directs, with Jeff Calhoun choreographing. Purlie (July 30-Aug. 2) will star The Wiz's Stephanie Mills, alongside Reginald VelJohnson (TV's "Family Matters"), Dorian Harewood (TV's "I'll Fly Away") and Larry Storch (TV's "F Troop," Breaking Legs). George Faison will direct and choreograph.
Aug. 13-16, audiences will ask Where's Charley?, with Emily Loesser and real-life husband Don Stephenson starring, alongside Dick Van Patten (TV's "Eight Is Enough") and Judith Blazer (Titanic). (Loesser's real-life father was Frank Loesser, who wrote the show's score.) Charles Repole directs, with Dan Siretta choreographing a special concert version to be adapted by Ken Ludwig (Moon Over Buffalo, Crazy For You).
For tickets ($40-$50) and information on "Words & Music" at the Kennedy Center call (202) 467-4600 or (outside DC) (800) 444-1324.