I've never been clear where the idea of Encores! special events originated. The Encores! series started with the purpose of presenting old, neglected musicals. Now, in addition to that, Encores! presents new musicals under its umbrella. These "special events" are looked at by those in the industry as basically pre-Broadway tryouts. The concept seems odd to me. But that doesn't mean I'm any less excited to see these shows -- I enjoy new musicals with a classical slant. And I'm really looking forward to seeing The Band Wagon, running November 6-16 at City Center.
First, I've long been waiting for Tracey Ullman to return to the New York stage. She is one of my favorite comedic actresses. Every once and a while I hear her name floated for something, but I've never actually seen her onstage. This is my chance. Plus, the theater folks joining her are pretty great too.
Second, The Band Wagon, the 1953 film upon which this musical presentation is based, has an interesting history. It began on Broadway as a musical revue back in 1931 featuring a book co-written by George S. Kaufman and lyricist Howard Dietz. That musical revue actually spawned two films, only one of which bore its name. (The other is 1949's Dancing in the Dark.) Kaufman was not involved in The Band Wagon film, which featured a story and screenplay by Broadway favorites Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Then there was Douglas Carter Beane's 2008 attempt, named Dancing in the Dark. For this one, Beane is using the original Comden and Green screenplay (including scenes never filmed) for the basis of this show, but presumably deviating at least a little. I'm curious to see what he comes up with.
Third, if there is any director/choreographer who can make this show seem fresh it is Kathleen Marshall. I think she's proven--through her work at Encores! and her work on Broadway--that she has a light touch with old-fashioned musicals. If this is to work, that is what will be needed.
Fourth, while The Band Wagon is not my favorite MGM film, Arthur Schwartz and Dietz wrote some great songs. It will be special to hear "That's Entertainment" live onstage.
So, yeah, I don't necessarily get Encores! special events as a concept. However I'm happy such things exist. I hope The Band Wagon is great and has a future life. But if it doesn't live on, at least there is time to see it next week at City Center.