Perhaps encouraged by the popularity of the Encores! concerts that celebrate show tunes at City Center, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts will salute American musical theatre writers in a new concert series beginning in February 1999.
Barbara Cook, Diana Krall, Audra McDonald, Maureen McGovern and other vocal and theatre stars will help launch the new performance series, "Lincoln Center's American Songbook," devoted to the great American songwriters.
"American Songbook," to be an ongoing series with linked films, events and lectures, will begin 8 PM Feb. 5-6, 1999 at Alice Tully Hall with "Harold Arlen: I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues." The concerts, devoted to the film and stage songs of Arlen, who wrote scores for the films "A Star is Born" and "The Wizard of Oz," and Broadway shows Jamaica, Bloomer Girl, St. Louis Woman and others, also features Richard Muenz, Mike Renzi, Jay Leonhart (Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know) and Ken Page.
The series artistic director is Jonathan Schwartz, the WQEW New York radio host and pop music writer who is the son of composer Arthur Schwartz ("Dancing in the Dark").
At 8 PM March 5-6, 1999 at Alice Tully Hall, "Songbook" will present "Richard Rodgers: With a Song in My Heart," outlining Rodgers' career with Lorenz Hart (Pal Joey, Babes in Arms, On Your Toes) and Oscar Hammerstein II (Oklahoma!, South Pacific, etc.). Stars singing Rodgers' work will include Michael Feinstein, Harolyn Blackwell, Ann Hampton Callaway, Maria Friedman, Faith Prince (Little Me), Leonhart, Mary Cleere Haran, Mark Murphy and Wesla Whitfield.
For subsequent shows, the series will draw on the above talents, plus a pool including Margaret Whiting, Mandy Patinkin, Linda Ronstadt, John Pizzarelli (Dream), Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone and others.
"Songbook" continues in the fall of 1999 and spring 2000 with four additional programs.
A world premiere of Don McGlynn's film documentary, "Over the Rainbow: The Life and Music of Harold Arlen," will be screened 8:30 PM Feb 3 at the Walter Reade Theatre in association with the Arlen concerts.
A 10 AM-1 PM Feb. 6, 1999 symposium, "The World of Harold Arlen," will feature a panel of specialists discussing Arlen's contributions, at the Walter Reade Theatre. It is free to "Songbook" ticket holders.
A symposium will also accompany the Rodgers concerts 10 AM-1 PM March 6, 1999 at the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center.
Designers for "Lincoln Center's American Songbook" are Wendall Harrington (projections) and Natasha Katz (lighting). The series musical director is Tony Monte. Series producer is Ira Weitzman.
Tickets run $45-$55 and are on sale now. For information, call (212) 721- 6500.
-- By Kenneth Jones