Encores! The Band Wagon Rolls into City Center with All-Star Cast
and New Twists and Turns
By: Ellis Nassour
M-G-M’s glittering 1953 show business musical The Band Wagon, a delight on so many levels – well, you might expect that since it was written [even if not exactly completed] by the celebrated Betty Comden and Adolph Green [whose centenary we’re celebrating] with a score by Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood greats Arthur Schwartz and lyrics by Howard Dietz and staged by the brilliant Michael Kidd – is getting a special off-season City Center Encores! stage adaptation for 12 performances through November 16.
Fred Astaire and stunning Cyd Charisse headlined the film, released in the so-called Golden Age of M-G-M musicals. Encores! is topping that with a glittery all-star roster of Broadway and then some A-Listers. And, given the total of Tony Award winners in the cast and on the creative end, The Band Wagon might be one of the Guinness Book of World Records.
Starring are Tony-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, seven-time Emmy- winner Tracey Ullman, Oscar-nominee Michael McKean, Tony-nominee Laura Osnes, Tony-nominee Tony Sheldon, Tony-nominee Michael Berresse, and Don Stephenson. There’s good reason to bring in the always-go-to-dependable guy for updating books, none other than five-time Tony-nominee Douglas Carter Beane. Comden and Green never finished aspects of the film and as the film progresses it literally became a revue – something Shcwartz and Dietz were pros at – with song after song.
"Comden and Green’s contract was up," relates Beane. "They split to New York to do the lyrics for Wonderful Town, working again [after On the Town] with Leonard Bernstein. For a long time now I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to finish it in their style as a way of showing my affection for their amazing body of work." He says he’s added some interesting twists and turns that add up to a book musical as opposed to a revue. A version of The Band Wagon, titled Dancing in the Dark, originated at San Diego’s Old Globe.
Three-time Tony- winner Kathleen Marshall is directing and choreographing, with music direction by Todd Ellison. The Band Wagon engagement is by special arrangement with. Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, so that might mean this is a sneak peek at what could be gelling for Broadway next season.
A classic backstage musical, The Band Wagon tells the story of a washed-up Hollywood star (Mitchell) who feels old hat — old top hat, tie and tails to be exact — attempting to make a comeback on Broadway, where he encounters an assortment of colorful, to say the least, characters: a genius of a British director who has no business directing a musical (Rees), a leading lady who¹s never done a show (Osnes), and a composer and lyricist who’re at each other¹s throats (McKean, Ullman).
As you might expect, everything that can go wrong does, especially the new musical — about Faust and the very height of pretentiousness and a howling hoot. Certainly things like this don’t happen on Broadway, but Beane is known to have a vivid imagination.
The show is filled with showstoppers, the biggest being that great anthem for all of show business, "That’s Entertainment." Also to be heard are "By Myself," "Dancing in the Dark," "I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan," "I Love Louisa," "A Shine on My Shoes," "Something to Remember You By," and "You and the Night and the Music." There’s also one of filmdom’s most-remembered showstoppers, "Triplets."
"By Myself" and "A Shine on My Shoes" were huge numbers for Astaire, and if anyone is capable of filling those patent leather shoes it’s Mitchell. The title comes from the famed 1931 Broadway revue written by Schwartz, Dietz, and George S. Kaufman.
The Band Wagon will feature sets by Tony-winner Derek McLane, costumes by six-time Tony -winner William Ivey Long, lighting by Tony-winner Peter Kaczorowski and sound design by two-time Tony- winner Brian Ronan.
Tickets for City Center Encores! The Band Wagon are $30-$130 and available at the City Center box office, through CityTix at (212) 581-1212, and online at www.NYCityCenter.org. For performance dates and showtimes, visit the website.
Photography: Joan Marcus