On July 28 I made my to the New York City Center to take in a production of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. I didn’t really know what to expect, as I’d never been to a City Center show and had also never heard of said show. I just knew that it was the first collaboration of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and that it had a stellar cast.
Before every performance there was a pre-show concert type event held in the lobby. I later found out that the Lobby Project happens before every Encores! Off-Center show. This exists because of the fabulous Jeanine Tesori, who literally stood right next to me for a brief moment in time. Cue internal freak out.
I chose what date I wanted to go based on what pre-show looked the most interesting. I decided on one that celebrated songs from “The One Before,” or songs from famous musical duos, just not from the show they were famous for. Somehow in my research I failed to read that the night was constructed by none other than Jennifer Ashley Tepper, who is the musical theatre idol I didn’t know I needed until I read her first book and discovered that theatre history is a thing you can actually do with your life. So cue more internal freaking out.
She had five of her very talented friends perform numbers from nine shows. These are the names of the amazing vocalists. I encourage you all to go look them up! I’ve even made it easy for you! John-Michael Lyles (Pace Honors shoutout!), Noel Carey, Etai Benson, Ruthie Ann Miles, and Julia Mattison.
They celebrated the early works of duos such as Kander and Ebb, Rodgers and Hart, Ahrens and Flaherty, and even Kenny Ortega (cue the Newsies fan girl in me). Some of the songs had never been recorded, until that night on the phones of the enticed audience. It was a night perfect for musical theatre history nerds.
The Lobby Project set the tone for the rest of the night. While waiting for the doors to open I was able to watch some dance footage of ballerinas over the years (I was too nervous to go say hi to JAT). Then I walked into the most beautiful theater I’ve ever been in. I sat down in my front row balcony seat and waited for the show to begin.
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater was a delightful show with a lot of heart. It’s about a man who cares more about the people in the town that he’s from than the fortune and titles that come with the family name. I could definitely hear a little bit of Ashman and Menken in there.
There were two things I took away from that night. One, that I need to see more City Center productions. Broadway shows (usually) run a while, but the bursts of gem-like shows that the City Center does do not. It’s a chance to see shows you may not have gotten to see in the past, or a way to reminisce if your favorite ever makes it there. I am insanely jealous of the people who got to see 2014’s tick, tick…Boom.
The other thing I took away is that there are probably so many “one befores” that I’m missing out on. It’s easy to get caught up in seeing everything on Broadway. It is there for a reason. But how cool would it be to say that you saw the show that those two composers did before they got famous from that one show. Fans for life! It’s like when you have a favorite indie artist and you get to say that you liked them before they went mainstream and got played on the radio.
Going forward (read: once I complete my quest to see everything currently playing on Broadway) I will make much more of an effort to see the Off-Broadway shows, the concerts, the readings, whatever I can get a decently priced ticket to, in order to expand my theater knowledge and be a part of future theatre history.