Kathleen Marshall, sought-after as a choreographer and a director, is stepping down as artistic director of one of the nation's most influential concert series, Encores!, so the series can have the undivided attention of a new director.
Marshall, a Tony Award-nominated choreographer for Kiss Me, Kate, has guided the "Great American Musicals in Concert" series at City Center in Manhattan since 1996. She will now be a director in residence and an advisor for the company. Jack Viertel, creative director with Jujamcyn Theatres, will take over as artistic director, effective immediately.
The three-show spring season at Encores! is decided by musical director Rob Fisher, City Center president and executive director Judith Daykin, and the artistic director. The 2001 shows will be announced in fall 2000.
Among the busy Marshall's upcoming commercial projects is choreographing Seussical, the new Broadway-bound show based on the characters and stories of Dr. Seuss.
"It has been a difficult decision to step down as artistic director," Marshall said in a statement. "I'm grateful that as director in residence, I will be able to continue to be involved with the series..." After just six years of presenting concert revival readings of such American musicals as Babes in Arms, Strike Up the Band, St. Louis Woman, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, City Center Encores! was awarded a special 2000 Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre June 4.
"Our first hint of Kathleen's gift was Call Me Madam, where she did the choreography and basically stopped the show," Daykin told Playbill On Line June 9. "She was just emerging out of [brother choreographer/director Rob Marshall's] shadow, assisting him with shows. She's passionate about Encores! and she's good at it. She's so good at communicating to our directors and designers what we're doing."
Daykin is happy about Marshall's upcoming work opportunities: "You can't walk away from these opportunities that are being laid at your feet."
The series began in 1994 as an effort to reintroduce audiences to the craft of American musical theatre. Daykin was intent on offering crowds an approximation of what it was like to be at an opening night of, say, Chicago, Li'l Abner or Sitting Pretty -- complete with original orchestrations. The series has inspired regional series around the country, and City Center reconstructions of scripts and scores (such as the Gershwins' Strike Up the Band) are being licensed out.
The series' first artistic director was Ira Weitzman (briefly), followed by Walter Bobbie (for two years) and then Marshall. Daykin told Playbill On Line that when she was conjuring the idea of the series in 1992-93, her first thought for artistic director was Viertel, who oversaw creative ventures and developing work for Jujamcyn Theatres.
"Jack was the first person I approached about this job, way back," Daykin said. His work at Jujamcyn has "settled into a routine" that will allow him to give Encores! the right amount of care and attention, she said.
Following Bobbie and Marshall, who are both directors, Viertel is the first Encores! artistic director to come to the job with a producer's sensibility.
Although the series was not designed as a launching pad for full productions, the concert revival of Chicago, sleek and trimmed down to a conceptual bare stage, was plucked up by producers Barry and Fran Weissler and mounted on Broadway, where it became a smash there and all over the world (and it continues at Broadway's Shubert Theatre).
Musical director Fisher remains at the musical helm of Encores!
Viertel said in a statement, "I'm looking forward to pouring my energy into keeping the artistic talent at the amazing level already achieved. There are certainly many more shows we want to reconstruct and rediscover."
Among Marshall's credits are directing and choreographing are lauded Encores! revivals of Babes in Arms and the recent Wonderful Town, both of which had producers circling for a possible commercial transfer. She choreographed Boys From Syracuse, Li'l Abner and Call Me Madam.
Each show in the series has a two-week production phase: The cast meets on a Monday, by Friday there is a run through and by the next Tuesday they perform, but only through Sunday. The concerts are performed with scripts in hand.
Bobbie once called it "summer stock with the 'A' team."
-- By Kenneth Jones