The news for 2015 came a couple of weeks ago, and sure enough, Theater Santa did not disappoint. Next year’s Encores includes the Gershwin’s Lady, Be Good, Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon, and Kander and Ebb’s Zorba (check out Playbill.com for more information.)
On paper, at least, it’s about a strong a season as any. The fact that now, 21 years and 63 musicals into the project, there’s still more out there, really speaks to the richness of the canon.
And there’s still a lot left. Second only to discussing Encores actual shows with friends and colleagues for me is the fun of thinking about what we’d like to see them do. Over two-decades-and-counting, some of the musicals on our collective wish lists have ultimately made it to their seasons . Yet there are still more I’m hoping for.
So I’m inviting all of you into my parlor game. Below, you’ll find my top three (well, my top three today) choices for Encores-to come. What would you like to see? And feel free to suggest imaginary cast lists!
Remember the ground rules – that these are basically shows that made it to Broadway, but weren’t especially successful, and have rarely if ever been revived. I’m not stickler about this – nor, really, has Encores been (Kismet, which they did, would certainly not qualify as a failure; neither would Most Happy Fella). But that’s the general idea.
OK, here goes – my top picks:
Skyscraper (1965 – Sammy Kahn, James Van Heusen, Peter Stone). This musical, based on Elmer Rice’s Dream Girl, got disappointing reviews when it opened. But the score is bouncy and delightful, really capturing a sense of Manhattan in transition, and includes three great ballads: “I’ll only miss her when I think of her,” “Everybody has the right to be wrong,” and “More than one way.” The original production featured Julie Harris in her only Broadway musical! Now, Harris is a goddess to me, but while I’m sure she carried the day in terms of charm, the show really needs a stronger singer. I’d nominate Jessie Mueller, who has exactly the right combination – initially, she seems like the sweet girl-next-door, but her exceptional vocal chops and transformative ability are anything but ordinary. And in the supporting roles played first by Peter Marshall, Charles Nelson Reilly and Rex Everhart, I nominate Encores veterans Will Chase, Mario Cantone and Danny Burstein.
Goldilocks (1958 – Leroy Anderson, Walter & Jean Kerr, Joan Ford). In the only Broadway musical he ever composed, pop master and novelty genius Leroy Anderson (“Sleigh Ride,” “The Typewriter”) knocks it out of the park in this musical about an actress at war with her producer. (Yes, Goldilocks got there before Mack and Mabel or On the Twentieth Century.) Pretty much every number is a winner, and when I’m asked to name the greatest theater song nobody knows, I most commonly cite “I never know when to say when,” which gave original star Elaine Stritch a brilliant – and uncharacteristically mellow – star turn. Stritch and original leading man Don Ameche would be a tough act to follow. I once thought Bernadette Peters was an obvious choice for Maggie, a silent film era star, but I’m afraid that ship has sailed. So how about Heidi Blickenstaff, who was so sensational this year in Most Happy Fella? And as Max, the producer, I’d love to see Howard McGillin, who can be sexy, funny and unctuous, all at the same time. (My second choice might be Will Swenson.)
High Spirits (1964 – Hugh Martin, Timothy Gray). If I can only have one show on my list, I nominate this fizzy, brilliant musicalization of Blithe Spirit. While I find that Noel Coward’s original play looks pretty worn these days, the score of High Spirits still sounds cheeky and newly-minted. “Home Sweet Heaven” should be on every cabaret diva’s to-do set list, and perhaps a revival would make that happen. Maybe one reason Encores has avoided High Spirits is that the stellar first cast seems irreplaceable. Who could follow Louise Troy (Ruth), Edward Woodward (Charles), Tammy Grimes (Elvira), and Beatrice Lillie (Madame Arcati)? But I will immodestly suggest I’ve come up with a current group that can equal them: Rebecca Luker (Ruth), Jeremy Northam (Charles), Christine Baranski (Elvira), and Harriet Harris (Madam Arcati).
Your turn — suggestions?