New York City Center continues its work of “bringing the backstage center stage” with City Center Encores! Unscripted. Partnering with The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WNYC, City Center presents a new live-streamed series that goes beyond the “talkback” and nostalgia to look about how Broadway musicals have reflected and shaped American life. The first conversation – hosted by Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel – kicks off Dec. 14, with “Sexism. Racism. Show Tunes. Discuss.”
Tony Award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson – who boasts a 40-year career – will examine sexist and racist attitudes rooted in classic musicals with fellow award winners Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof) and Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home).
For City Center’s announcement about the events, Viertel stated:
“At Encores!, we’re always asking questions about the American musical: where it’s been, where it’s going, what we can learn from the songwriters of Broadway’s Golden Age, and about the attitudes of any given era, which might be very different from our own. This series opens up that conversation to everyone. There’s no one else who does what we do at Encores! in terms of restoring and presenting great musicals as they were originally intended. Our hope is that Encores! Unscripted will explore the connections between the shows we do here –from Cabin in the Sky to 1776 – and the shows currently playing on Broadway.”
Santiago-Hudson has stated: “Whether I’m acting, writing or directing, I want to tell the truth about human beings – especially my folk.” His roots, which spring from an Puerto Rican father and African-American mother, began in New York. Santiago-Hudson made his Broadway debut with George C. Wolfe’s Jelly’s Last Jam (1992-1993). His last Broadway appearance was during 2011-2012 in the Kenny Leon-directed Stick Fly (written by Lydia R. Diamond) as “Joy LeVay,” along with Dulé Hill, Mekhi Phifer, Tracie Thoms and Condola Rashad. Other acting work has included August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Seven Guitars; the latter garnered him a Tony Award.
The Lackawanna, NY native wrote the 2001 autobiographical play Lackawanna Blues and portrayed 20 different characters as well as himself; it was adapted in 2005 as an HBO film and earned him the Humanitas Prize as well as Emmy and Writers Guild of America award nominations. His follow-up “truth” play was Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine, which was produced by Two River Theater in New Jersey this year. For his direction, he was awarded, in 2013, the Lucille Lortel Award and Obie Award and nominated for the Drama Desk Award for his work in the Off-Broadway production of Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. In 2009, he received the NAACP Lifetime Achievement Theatre Award for his role as “Mayor Joe Starks” in Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Jennifer Sendrow, executive producer at WYNC, also discussed the events. As noted on City Center’s website page, she said: “The Greene Space and Encores! know that our audiences not only delight in the electricity of a live performance, they want to dig deeply into the stories and ideas that propel their favorite shows. We’re convening some of the brightest minds on Broadway to make a must-listen oral history of a fiercely creative time in American theater that will inspire and challenge future generations of artists and fans alike.”
The three-part series will conclude March 14, with “Who Tells Their Stories? Historical Narratives on Broadway” featuring Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson composer Michael Friedman, Hamilton The Musical star Leslie Odom, Jr., along with cast members from the Encores! production of 1776.
Tickets are on sale now. All shows will be webcast live and available as archived videos and podcasts.
Santiago-Hudson presented a TEDx talk at his alma mater Binghamton University on the theme of “staying the course.”