Encores! Will Stage Fiorello!, On Your Toes and Superman in 2013

By Kenneth Jones
May 21, 2012

New York City Center's Encores! concert series will return to its roots in 2013 — its 20th season — with a presentation of Fiorello!, the title that launched the popular organization in 1994. Concert revivals of It's a Bird…It's a Plane…It's Superman and Rodgers & Hart's On Your Toes are also planned.



Artistic director Jack Viertel announced the new season on May 21. No casting or directors were announced, although Encores! alumni Raúl Esparza (Anyone Can Whistle) and Kelli O'Hara (Bells Are Ringing) will star in a Gala Celebration concert of the past 20 years of Encores! on Nov. 12, prior to the early 2013 start of the season.

Fiorello!, the 1959 biographical musical about New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, who was responsible for the creation of City Center, will appear Jan. 30-Feb. 3, 2013, launching the 20th season of the influential organization that has given life to forgotten, overshadowed, rarely performed or underappreciated American musical scores from the past. Several Encores!-originated concerts later blossomed into full Broadway productions (Chicago, Wonderful Town and Finian's Rainbow).

Jerry Zaks, the actor now better known as a director, starred as the "Little Flower" in the original 1994 Encores! concert, taking on a role created by Tom Bosley (Walter Bobbie, who later won the Tony for directing Chicago, staged that first concert). Fiorello! — about "LaGuardia's rise from an immigrant's son to feisty congressmen whose guts and determination to fight corruption brought down the crooked Tammany Hall political machine" — has a score by Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Jerry Bock (music) and a book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott. The show that viewed politics with a jaundiced eye (exemplified by the song "Little Tin Box") and a sentimental heart ("Till Tomorrow," "When Did I Fall in Love?") won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award as Best Musical.

In a statement, Arlene Shuler, president and CEO of City Center, said that Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was "the man singularly responsible for saving City Center from the wrecking ball, and transforming it into Manhattan's first Performing Arts Center. It was the perfect show to launch the Encores! series in 1994 and a fitting way to celebrate our 20th Anniversary season in our beautifully restored theatre."

The 1966 satiric musical comedy It's a Bird…It's a Plane…It's Superman, with a score by Charles Strouse (music) and Lee Adams (lyrics), will appear in March 2013. Although there have been recent revisions to the script and score (and a regional production in 2010), artistic director Viertel told Playbill.com that the idea of Encores! is to present the original versions of properties, though there are always discussions with artistic teams and estates about changes or new versions. (Merrily We Roll Along, presented by Encores! earlier this year, for example, used a revised version of the show, not its 1981 script and score.) The Encores! tradition has been to "adapt" the books of shows, paring scripts down to bare storytelling.

Bob Holliday in the original Broadway production of It's a Bird…It's a Plane…It's Superman.
photo by Friedman-Abeles

It's a Bird…It's a Plane…It's Superman, which flirts with a contemporary '60s sound ("It's Super Nice," "It's Superman") while indulging in musical comedy pastiche ("So, Long Big Guy," "You've Got What I Need"), includes the breakout song "You've Got Possibilities," first introduced by Linda Lavin.

The show, based on the comic-book hero, has a libretto by David Newman and Robert Benton, who would later co-write the screenplay for the 1978 movie "Superman" starring Christopher Reeve. The original production was directed by Harold Prince.

Encores! music director Rob Berman will music-direct both Fiorello! and It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman. Former Encores! music director Rob Fisher will return to conduct On Your Toes.

On Your Toes, the 1936 musical that gave the world the standards "It's Got to Be Love," "Quiet Night," "There's a Small Hotel," "Glad To Be Unhappy" and the title tune, will appear in May 2013. It has a book by George Abbott, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart; music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart. The original production was choreographed by George Balanchine and included two ballets — "La Princess Zenobia Ballet" and the famous "jazz ballet" called "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue." Viertel said On Your Toes is expected to be one of the most dance-heavy shows in the history of Encores! (choreography details will be announced).

Encores! bills the show as "an improbable mix of gangsters, vaudeville and classical ballet, and was the first musical to successfully integrate classical dance into the Broadway musical format." In 1983, Abbott himself staged a Broadway revival of the work, retaining the show's original style, choreography and orchestrations (by Hans Spialek). It won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical. A cast album and national tour followed.

Performance-only tickets to the fall Encores! Gala concert will be on sale later this summer. For additional information about Gala ticket packages, contact Susan Strebel at sstrebel@nycitycenter.org or (212) 763-1205.

Encores! subscriptions can be purchased starting July 30 at the New York City Center Box Office (West 55th Street between 6th and 7th avenues), through CityTix at (212) 581-1212, or online at NYCityCenter.org.

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New York City Center Encores! (artistic director Jack Viertel and music director Rob Berman) has presented over 60 musical productions since its founding in 1994 for an audience of more than half a million people. The series "celebrates the rarely heard works of America's most important composers and lyricists." Each season, Encores! "gives three glorious scores the chance to be heard as their creators originally intended." Each production "is a whirlwind, with just eight days of rehearsals, one day of dress rehearsal and seven performances. The cast, backed by The Encores! Orchestra (often more than 30 players strong), takes the stage with books in hand."

New York City Center, with its "neo-Moorish facade, was built in 1923 as a meeting hall for the members of the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine," according to history notes at nycitycenter.org. "Two decades later, the building was saved from the wrecking ballby Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and City Council president Newbold Morris, who transformed it into Manhattan's first performing arts center: an accessible, affordable home for the best of theatre, music and dance. On Dec. 11, 1943, New York City Center officially opened its doors with a special concert by the New York Philharmonic; LaGuardia himself took the baton to conduct the national anthem."

New York City Center (Arlene Shuler, president and CEO) "has played a defining role in the cultural life of the city for nearly 70 years." Today, City Center "is home to many distinguished companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Manhattan Theatre Club; a roster of renowned national and international visiting artists; and its own critically acclaimed and popular programs," including the Tony-honored Encores! series.

In 2012, City Center completed an extensive renovation project to revitalize and modernize its historic theatre.