When Encores! began in 1994, it began with Fiorello!, in tribute to the crusading fireplug of a mayor who had, among his many achievements, saved New York City Center from the wrecking ball and dedicated it as Manhattan's first performing arts center. As Encores! enters its 20th season, it seemed appropriate to once again celebrate the Little Flower, a folk hero in the urban landscape of New York City.
Fiorello! premiered just as the '50s were coming to an end, and marked the beginning of the last great decade of the classic musical on Broadway. The Rodgers and Hammerstein era lasted 17 years — from Oklahoma! in 1943 until The Sound of Music in 1960. But their adventurous, genuinely dominant period really ended with The King and I, just as the 1950s were beginning. That meant opportunity for new young teams of composers and lyricists, many of whom had their first successes under the producing aegis of Harold Prince in shows directed and co-written by George Abbott; both men liked the challenge of young talent. Abbott was older — he'd been working on Broadway since 1913. Prince was a kid, and had a natural affinity for turning up the next generation of artists.
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