Encores! is a performance organization at City Center that does Broadway musicals that haven’t been revived in a while, or have never been revived. The classic Encores! show is a show that’s good, worth hearing, but not really suitable for a Broadway run. A few of their shows have transferred to Broadway and been hits - - *Wonderful Town*, with the great Donna Murphy, and most notable of all, *Chicago*, which has become the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Their productions are always first-class, often feature wonderful stars, and are enlightening about the works themselves.
Richard and Susan Savel and I went to their production of *The Band Wagon* on 11/15. *The Band Wagon* is one of the classic MGM musicals - - it stars Fred Astaire as the leading man, Cyd Charisse as the leading lady, Jack Buchanan as the director, and Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant as the writers. Encores! brought in Douglas Carter Beane (he wrote the book to *Cinderella*, also wrote *The Nance* and the book for that horrible *Fledermaus* at the Met) to redo the movie as a stage musical, and he did a wonderful job. They cast Brian Stokes Mitchell as the leading man, Laura Osnes as the leading lady, Tony Sheldon as the director, and Tracey Ullman and Michael McKean as the writers. Fab cast, right?
The songs are by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, and the show is chock-a-block with fantastic songs: “That’s entertainment”, “Dancing in the dark”, “I guess I’ll have to change my plan”, “By myself”, and the best number in the movie, “Triplets.” The high point of the show was early-ish in the first act - - Ullman and McKean talk the other characters through the show they’re writing, singing bits of the songs, acting out the parts, etc. Beane did a masterful job of going in and out of songs, and bringing in the orchestra here and there to give a little glow. Speaking of the orchestra, I was a little disappointed to see that there were just twelve pieces. Encores! typically does Broadway shows with more or less a full orchestra, around twenty-five - - but the arrangements for this show were really good, and they were a tight band. And heck, if twelve pieces is good enough for Louis Prima, it should be good enough for me, right?
The performances were all strong. Laura Osnes was a sweet leading lady - - she has a lovely voice and a sincere charm. Tracey Ullman was fantastic as the wisecracking writer, and she sang really well - - I bet she has her eye on the Andrea Martin roles, and she’d be great in them. Tony Sheldon was marvelous as the director - - this role was supposed to have been played by Roger Rees (I don’t know why he wasn’t in the show), and Sheldon was darling, very funny, just the right tone. Michael McKean did a good job as the other writer, though it’s not much of a part.
Brian Stokes Mitchell was a bit of a let-down. I’d only seen him in that unforgivably horrible musical of *Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown* - - he did a good job in that, but it was such a waste of time. He bothered me in *The Band Wagon*. He has a beautiful baritone voice, but his delivery is sort of rigid. He gives the impression of, “This is how I sing, isn’t it gorgeous?” There’s something smug about him, and I don’t like that. He was more natural in a few songs, which was a nice change. And he did a spectacular job in the big tap number at the end. Who knew he was a hoofer?
Kathleen Marshall was the director and choreographer, and she did a dazzling job. The tap number was the highlight, I was in tears. There’s nothing as satisfying as a well-done tap number.