In keeping with Lincoln Center’s mission of providing access to world-class performing arts to the widest possible audience, this month’s series of special Live From Lincoln Center Presents performances in The Appel Room (December 19–22) will be captured for broadcast on PBS.
For four consecutive Friday evenings in the spring of 2018, PBS viewers around the country will have the best seats in the house for an extraordinary lineup of Broadway artists: Leslie Odom, Jr., Andrew Rannells, Sutton Foster with guest star Jonathan Groff, and Stephanie J. Block, a stellar group that has collectively garnered a total of 13 Tony nominations.
“What we’re trying to do is get each artist to share the story of their own important musical journey,” says Andrew C. Wilk, the executive producer of Live From Lincoln Center. That means performing more than just the hit showtunes they’re known for: “They’ll really be showing their musical diversity,” he explains.
In discussing the genesis of the series, Wilk recalls: “I got a call from the head of artistic programming at PBS saying, ‘We’re thinking of creating a series of concerts around Broadway talent. Could you help us put it together?’” Wilk let the idea percolate, and while he and his team filmed the recent Broadway production of Falsettos for Live From Lincoln Center, his concept for The Appel Room series took shape.
Wilk had already been looking for a way to capture a concert in an intimate setting with Falsettos star Andrew Rannells, so he approached him backstage to get the ball rolling. “Then it occurred to me that we could expand this, because when you set up and build the technical infrastructure to do one show, it’s more efficient to shoot multiple shows,” says Wilk.
With Rannells on board, Wilk immediately thought of three other artists he wanted to invite to round out the star-studded week of concerts. “Stephanie J. Block joined me at a press tour in Pasadena back in January to promote Falsettos and gave this incredible performance that brought the house down,” he says. “I knew that I would love to collaborate with her again.”
Also on his wish list were Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sutton Foster. At the time, Odom was just finishing work on the movie remake of Murder on the Orient Express. “I’ve been a fan of Leslie’s for a while and haven’t yet had the opportunity to work with him at Lincoln Center, so we are thrilled that he is part of this series,” Wilk says. For Foster, who is a longtime member of the Lincoln Center family, he thought of an extra twist, explaining, “I wanted a special guest, and Jonathan Groff I know is a huge Sutton fan. I knew their backstory and that they’re really funny together.”
Viewers who tune in for the PBS broadcasts—which will be aired on four consecutive Friday evenings in the spring to be announced at a later date—will certainly recognize this quintet of stars from previous television work. Odom made a splash on NBC’s Smash; Rannells is familiar to television audiences from HBO’s Girls; Foster charmed viewers as the lead in Bunheads and the current hit Younger; Groff starred in HBO’s Looking and now Netflix’s new Mindhunter; and Block has appeared on Homeland, Orange Is the New Black, Madam Secretary, and the upcoming NBC series Rise.
For each concert, Wilk explains, the artists have had the freedom to develop their own unique shows, crafting cabarets that present stories that are authentically their own. So what can audiences expect from these intimate performances? Wilk hints, “Stephanie’s show traces her lineage as the big belter and Andrew tells a completely different musical story from hers, while Leslie has a very cool, soulful jazz set and Sutton pulls out all the stops with a variety of amazing Broadway moments.”