After 20 years, Jack Viertel is giving up the job that everyone who loves musical theater covets: producing Encores! at City Center.
As I shouldn’t have to remind my readers, Encores! presents dwell efficiency variations of musicals that, for one trigger or one different, have slipped away or are in peril of doing so.
The first current Viertel wished to produce had disappeared altogether: “Juno,” an adaptation of a Sean O’Casey play that had a score by Marc Blitzstein (“The Threepenny Opera”).
“I have loved the score to ‘Juno’ since I was 14,” 70-year-old Viertel tells me. “But it’s a drama. People get killed. It’s not ‘Hello, Dolly!’ So I thought I better try to prove myself in the job before I do ‘Juno.’ ”
The first Encores! current he produced was Rodgers and Hart’s “A Connecticut Yankee,” in 2001. Viertel did it as a tribute to his mom and father, who took him to Broadway reveals when he was a toddler. They beloved Ella Fitzgerald’s album “The Rodgers and Hart Song Book,” which has the definitive rendition of that musical’s “Thou Swell.”
The Encores! manufacturing was merely so-so — “The show was more problematic than I thought,” Viertel says — nonetheless Christine Ebersole, singing “To Keep My Love Alive,” launched the house down.
Three months later, he did “Hair,” which, with Idina Menzel, Gavin Creel, Michael McElroy, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, was a sensation. “We sold every single ticket to that show,” he says. But he purchased hate mail from Encores! subscribers who objected to the nudity. “They said it was obscene and disgusting,” Viertel says. “Those letters could have been written in 1967. It must have taken a long time for them to be delivered.”
More successes adopted, along with “The Apple Tree,” “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Gypsy,” starring Patti LuPone — all of which transferred to Broadway.
Viertel says he not at all felt the pressure to give Broadway one different “Chicago,” the long-running revival that started alongside along with his predecessors at Encores!
“It was always about the score,” he says. “Do we want to hear the score? And if the book is not good, how do we make it tolerable?”
He tried it with “Juno,” and whereas critics praised the score, one often called the musical’s plot “the stuff of nightmares.”
Another current Viertel couldn’t salvage was his 2003 manufacturing of “House of Flowers,” based mostly totally on Truman Capote’s information about rival brothels, with music by Harold Arlen. Pearl Bailey starred inside 1954 genuine, nonetheless, the current was troubled out of the town. By the time it purchased to New York, Bailey had turned it into one factor like a nightclub act.
“I love the score,” Viertel says. “And we tried it. But the show had just torn itself to pieces, and we could not fix it.”
Because of its prestigious fame — 30-piece orchestras are the norm at Encores! — City Center has attracted stars. The one Viertel wished most was Hugh Jackman for Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s 1961 current, “Stop the World — I Want To Get Off.”
“We had a meeting, and he was interested, but we couldn’t get him for nine days of rehearsals for just seven shows,” Viertel says.
One of his most acclaimed Encores! reveals have been 2018’s “Grand Hotel,” with a stupendous score by Robert Wright, George Forrest, and Maury Yeston. Viertel had been involved throughout the genuine 1989 manufacturing as an authority of Jujamcyn Theaters, which produced the musical. It had a hard tryout in Boston, nonetheless, director Tommy Tune mounted it for Broadway, the place it went on to win 5 Tony Awards.
Viertel says he was watching the Encores! manufacturing when he thought, “First you do shows you saw the first time. But when you start doing shows you produced the first time — well, that’s when you know it’s time to get off.”