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Encores! and the downsizing of the classic American musical

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Current economic conditions on Broadway have rendered many of the great musicals of the past prohibitively expensive to produce as originally envisioned. Over the past decade, New York’s Encores! series has overcome this problem by presenting partially staged ‘concert versions’ of such works featuring full orchestra and star performers, but with abbreviated librettos and minimal staging and design. The formula has proved successful on many fronts: the three annual Encores! presentations are major events in the Broadway community, attracting thousands of subscribers and prime publicity. Some of the more popular Encores! projects have even transferred to Broadway with only slight ‘upgrading’ of production values – most notably their revival of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago, now an international franchise still running on Broadway, in the West End and in cities around the world. Clearly, Encores! has made an impact on contemporary musical theatre practice. It has provided a service to the field in the areas of restoration and preservation of repertoire, and it has attracted top-rank talent to breathe life into some forgotten works. But, by doing so in the pared-down form of the staged reading, has it also unwittingly set a hazardous precedent for future musical revivals? This article explores the economic and cultural ramifications of Encores!’s success in our current cost-cutting climate and its implications for the future of the American musical theatre legacy.

Keywords: Broadway golden age; Chicago; economics; musicals in concert; revivals; staged readings

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: City University of New York

Publication date: 2011-08-18

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  • Studies in Musical Theatre is a refereed journal which considers areas of live performance that use vocal and instrumental music in conjunction with theatrical performance as a principal part of their expressive language.
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