For years now, neglected but worthy musicals have received deserved attention through the City Center Encores! series of concert productions. Now, plays will finally get equal time. The City Center people have announced a new play-reading program called City Center Voices!, to be produced by actor Alec Baldwin, with Steve Lawson as artistic director.
The inaugural roster will feature three plays: Joseph Kesselring's Arsenic and Old Lace, Nov. 11; Jules Feiffer's Little Murders, Jan. 30, 2001; and Stephen Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster, March 13. Lawson will direct all three.
The cast for Lace is as impressive as any Encores! Line-up. Joanne Woodward and Celeste Holm play the crazy old sisters, who do away with their house guests in their spare time. Balwin will play the Cary Grant role of their theatre critic nephew. Also in the cast are William Duell (A Winter's Tale), Edmond Genest, Edward Herrmann (Ancestral Voices), John Hines, Terrence Mann (The Scarlet Pimpernel), Tuck Milligan (The Kentucky Cycle), John Rothman, Ethan Sandler, Victor Slezak (Suddenly Last Summer), Jennifer Van Dyck and Lee Wilkof (Kiss Me, Kate).
As with the Encores! series, the Voices! readings will feature minimal production values. "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." Each reading will have only one performance. Though possessed of a thriving film career, Baldwin has often returned to the stage, appeared on Broadway in A Streetcar Named Desire and Off-Broadway in Macbeth.
--By Robert Simonson