New York City Center has reigned supreme on Broadway for the past year, with both Into the Woods and Parade transferring to Broadway from their staged-concert productions in 2022—and both now nominated for 2023 Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical. Although two in a year is impressive enough, these transfers are actually not a rarity—New York City Center transfers have become more and more frequent in the last decade.
Though New York City Center hosts a wide array of concerts and limited-engagement performances, it's best known for its Encores! series, from which most Broadway transfers have originated. Beginning in 1994 with the Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert, the series stages Broadway classics that audiences would love to see an encore of. In 2013, New York City Center launched Encores! OffCenter, which aims to highlight hidden gems within musical theatre history: think productions with short runs, or lesser-known musicals from otherwise celebrated composers. Annually, New York City Center also hosts a gala performance—a higher-profile performance that benefits the venue's operations, future programming, and mission.
These staged concerts typically involve some costumes and blocking, and are performed with full, rich orchestras. They are also played according to the show's original orchestrations. The performances are strictly limited engagements, sometimes only for a few nights...unless they transfer to Broadway for a longer run later down the line!
For its work in reinvigorating the American musical, City Center has received two special Tony Awards, in 1956 and in 2000 (the latter specifically for the Encores! series).
In honor of New York City Center's two 2023 Tony nominations, we're taking a look back on all the New York City Center concert productions that audiences demanded...well, an encore to.
1. Chicago (1996)
Broadway's second longest-running show is also the first-ever transfer of a New York City Center Encores! production to a Broadway theatre. And 27 years later, audiences still can't get enough of this revival.
The Encores! production of Chicago originally premiered in 1996 as a staged concert at New York City Center running from May 2-4. The production was directed by Walter Bobbie, and was also heavily reimagined by choreographer Ann Reinking, who reprised her role as Roxie in the Encores! performances. Reinking, a protégé of Chicago's original choreographer Bob Fosse—as well as his former romantic partner and artistic collaborator—is widely esteemed for her ability to shape Chicago's iconic choreography in a way that both honored Fosse's original vision, while also sharpening up the production for a new age.
Within a week of the concert's run at City Center, there were already whispers about a Broadway transfer. Finally, it was announced: Chicago would open at the Richard Rogers Theatre on November 14, with Encores! stars Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth leading the production. It opened to glowing reviews, a stark contrast to the original Chicago's critical reception in 1975. Overall, it seemed that the right time for Chicago was two decades later. The themes of celebrities and criminal justice, media and the manipulation of public image, hit much harder in the late 1990s, as critic Laurie Winer described in her Los Angeles Times review: "...The Bob Fosse cult musical now outfitted in a fabulously confident revival for the post-O.J. era."
With a book by the late Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Ebb, the Chicago revival features set design by John Lee Beatty, costume design by William Ivey Long, lighting design Ken Billington, and sound design by Scott Lehrer.
The production is now notorious for its "stunt casting," or, bringing in celebrities to star in leading roles. It works surprisingly well considering the context of the show, which is largely about the concept of celebrity itself, alongside the stripped-down design, which offer performers who are new to stage acting an introduction that's more feasibly navigated.
Notable celebrity replacements include Pamela Anderson, Wendy Williams, Jerry Springer, Todrick Hall, Jennifer Nettles, Ashlee Simpson, Wayne Brady, and Billy Ray Cyrus.
2. Wonderful Town (2003)
Though it originally opened in 1953, by the 2000s, Leonard Bernstein's Wonderful Town had yet to have a Broadway revival. New York City Center's Encores! production ran from May 3-7, 2000, starring Donna Murphy and Laura Benanti. It seemed like the 2000s were the ideal time for Wonderful Town because a few days after the Encores! run, Benanti shared with Playbill that there was already interest in a Broadway transfer.
Still, the revival did not arrive for another three years, finally opening at the Al Hirshfield Theatre on November 23, 2003, with Murphy reprising her role as Ruth, Jennifer Westfeldt as Eileen, and Gregg Edelman as Robert. The production ran until January 30, 2005, and notably ushered in Brooke Shields as Murphy's replacement in September 2004.
3. The Apple Tree (2006)
This one serves as an honorable mention, as The Apple Tree did not directly transfer straight from its New York City Center concert to the Broadway stage. Instead, the eventual Broadway revival was inspired by New York City Center's production.
Originally opening on Broadway in 1966, The Apple Tree is a three-act series of stories intertwined by a "be careful what you wish for" theme. Most recognizably, Adam and Eve's story is shown in the first act.
Staged as an Encores! concert, the New York City Center production of The Apple Tree ran May 12-16, 2005. It starred Kristin Chenoweth, Malcolm Gets, and Michael Cerveris.
After its New York City Center success, Roundabout Theatre Company opened the first-ever Broadway revival of The Apple Tree, again starring Chenoweth, who was joined by Brian D'Arcy James and Marc Kudisch.
4. Gypsy (2008)
Here she is, world! In what might be Patti Lupone's most quintessential performance, New York City Center staged Gypsy July 9-29, 2007. The production was conceived after Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel saw LuPone in a production of Gypsy at the 2006 Chicago Ravinia Festival; he knew that New York City needed to see LuPone's take on Mama Rose.
The Encores! production of Gypsy was directed by Arthur Laurents, with LuPone reprising her role as Rose. The production also included Laura Benanti as Louise, Boyd Gaines as Herbie, and Leigh Ann Larkin as June.
It then transferred to the St. James Theatre, opening March 27, 2008. It ran until January 11, 2009. One performance late in the run has gone down in Patti LuPone infamy, where she stopped the show during the 11-o'clock number "Rose's Turn" to scold an audience member who appeared to be taking pictures. That was the first time LuPone has stood up for theatre etiquette and it won't be the last.
4. Finian's Rainbow (2009)
Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, the Encores! production of Finian's Rainbow ran March 26-29, 2009. It starred Jim Norton and Kate Baldwin as Finian and Sharon, with Cheyenne Jackson as Woody. The musical originally opened in 1947, and although it was revived numerous times in the mid-20th century, its last revival before its Encores! run was in 1967.
Finian's Rainbow transferred to Broadway on October 29, 2009, opening at the St. James Theatre with Norton, Baldwin, and Jackson stepping back into their roles. It closed several months later on January 17, 2010.
5. Violet (2014)
Though the eventual Broadway production of Violet did not directly transfer from its New York City Center iteration, it calls for an honorable mention. First produced at Playwrights Horizons in 1997, Violet featured music by Jeanine Tesori and a book by Brian Crawley. Set in the 1960s South, it follows a young woman, Violet, who has a significant scar on her face, and travels far away from home in hopes of being "healed" by a popular televangelist.
The New York City Center production of Violet reconfigured the musical to have one act rather than two, and made other key revisions to the book. Directed by Leigh Silverman, the concert starred Sutton Foster as the titular character. Unlike many other New York City Center concerts, which, although limited engagements, may span two to four nights of performances, the Encores! performance of Violet was one-night-only, on July 17, 2013.
Sutton Foster reprised her role in the Broadway transfer one year later, alongside Colin Donnell, Alexander Gemignani, and Joshua Henry. It opened at the American Airlines Theatre on April 20, 2014 and ran until August 10, 2014. And the program listed the New York City Center Encores! Off-Center concert as inspiration for the Broadway revival.
Sunday in the Park with George (2017)
In the first instance of a New York City Center gala performance transferring to Broadway, Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as George and Annaleigh Ashford as Dot/Marie, originally ran in 2016 for three nights—October 24 to October 26—as New York City Center's annual gala performance. It received rave reviews, and fans quickly rallied for a Broadway transfer.
By February of the next year, it began previews at the newly-renovated Hudson Theatre, with an opening night on February 23, 2017. With Gyllenhaal and Ashford resuming their roles, they were joined by an all-star cast of Brooks Ashmanskas as Mr./Charles, Phillip Boykin as Boatman/Lee, Claybourne Elder as Soldier/Alex, Liz McCartney as Mrs./Harriet, Ruthie Ann Miles as Frieda/Betty, Ashley Park as Celeste #1/Theresa, David Turner as Franz/Dennis, Jordan Gelber as Louis/Billy, Erin Davie as Yvonne/Naomi, Penny Fuller as Old Lady/Blair, and Robert Sean Leonard as Jules/Bob.
With a beloved book by James Lapine, the production was directed by Lapine's niece, Sarna Lapine, and featured musical staging by Ann Yee, scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Clint Ramos, and lighting design by Ken Billington.
It closed on April 23, 2017, causing producers to withdraw the production from Tony Award consideration due to its short run. Tony Award or not, there's no doubting its critical acclaim and placement in the hearts of many Sondheim fans.
6. Into The Woods (2022)
The frequently-staged Stephen Sondheim favorite had not seen a New York production in 10 years, the time had certainly come following Sondheim's passing in 2021. The 2022 Encores! staged concert of Into the Woods starred Heather Headley as the Witch, Neil Patrick Harris as The Baker, Sara Bareilles as the Baker's Wife, Denée Benton as Cinderella, Cole Thompson as Jack, Ann Harada as Jack's Mother, Julia Lester as Little Red Ridinghood, Shereen Pimentel as Rapunzel, Gavin Creel as Cinderella's Prince/Wolf, Jordan Donica as Rapunzel's Prince, Annie Golden as Grandmother/Cinderella's Mother/Giant's Wife, and David Patrick Kelly as Narrator/Mysterious Man. Directed by Encores! Artistic Director Lear deBessonet, it ran May 4-15, 2022.
The production transferred to Broadway remarkably quickly, beginning previews a little over a month later at the St. James Theatre on June 28 and opening on July 10. It was supposed to be an eight-week limited engagement, but the production extended twice, finally closing on January 8, 2023. Into the Woods has been nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical for deBessonet (who is also the artistic director of New York City Center's Encores!).
The Broadway cast of Into the Woods included Brian d'Arcy James as the Baker, Tony winner Patina Miller as the Witch, Phillipa Soo as Cinderella, and Joshua Henry as Rapunzel's Prince. Reprising their Encores! performances were Gavin Creel, Sara Bareilles, Cole Thompson, Julia Lester, Annie Golden, Ta'Nika Gibson, Albert Guerzon, Brooke Ishibashi, Kennedy Kanagawa, and David Turner. Jason Forbach, Mary Kate Moore, and Cameron Johnson rounded out the company.
Behind the creative team was music director Rob Berman, choreographer Lorin Latarro, scenic designer David Rockwell, costume designer Andrea Hood, lighting designer Tyler Micoloeau, sound designer Scott Lehrer (now co-designing with Alex Neumann), puppet designer James Ortiz, and hair and makeup designer Cookie Jordan.
The Broadway run notably featured star-studded replacements like Stephanie J. Block, Sebastian Arcelus, Montego Glover, Krysta Rodriguez, Katy Geraghty, Joaquina Kalukango, and Andy Karl.
Into the Woods is currently on an American tour, bringing New York City Center's artistic vision to audiences around the country.
7. Parade (2022)
Another gala-performance-turned-Broadway-transfer, Parade played New York City Center November 1-6, 2022. And audiences couldn't get enough. Starring Ben Platt as Leo Frank and Michaela Diamond as his wife Lucille, the production transferred to the Jacobs Theatre for a highly-demanded encore, with an opening night on March 16, 2023. The run is scheduled through August 6.
Michael Arden, who directed the City Center production, also directs the production on Broadway. Parade has been nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical for Arden.
Platt and Diamond are reprising their roles as Leo and Lucille, alongside Alex Joseph Grayson as Jim Conley, Sean Allan Krill as Governor Slaton, Paul Alexander Nolan as Hugh Dorsey, Jay Armstrong Johnson as Britt Craig, Courtnee Carter as Angela, Eddie Cooper as Newt Lee, Erin Rose Doyle as Mary Phagan, Manoel Felciano as Tom Watson, Danielle Lee Greaves as Minnie McKnight, Douglas Lyons as Riley, Florrie Bagel as Nurse, Max Chernin as Mr. Turner, Christopher Gurr as Luther Rosser/Mr. Peavy, Ashlyn Maddox as Monteen and Others, Sophia Manicone as Iola Stover, William Michals as Detective Starnes, and Jackson Teeley as Officer Ivey.
Both Howard McGillin and Stacie Bono are also continuing with the company, but in new roles; McGillin has replaced John Dossett as Old Soldier/Judge Roan, and Stacie Bono replaces Jennifer Laura Thompson as Sally Slaton.
New to the company are Jake Pedersen as Frankie Epps, Kelli Barrett as Mrs. Phagan, Emily Rose DeMartino as Essie and others, Beth Kirkpatrick as Nina Formby, and Charlie Webb as Young Soldier. Rounding out the company as swings are Harry Bouvy, Tanner Callicutt, Bailee Endebrock, Caroline Fairweather, Prentiss E. Mouton, and Aurelia Williams, along with standby Ryan Vona.
Originally directed by Harold Prince, the musical premiered on Broadway in 1998. The New York City Center creative team has largely been reunited for the Broadway bow, with music director Tom Murray, scenic designer Dane Laffrey, costume designer Susan Hilferty, lighting designer Heather Gilbert, projection designer Sven Ortel, and hair and wig designer Tom Watson reprising their work. Christopher Cree Grant, who choreographed the City Center run, is joined by co-choreographer (and wife) Lauren Yalango-Grant. Newly joining the team are sound designer Jon Weston and production stage manager Justin Scribner.
Considering all the critical, audience, and awards acclaim, here's to many more encores of New York City Center productions!