Review: ‘Cabin in the Sky,’ Encores Great American Musicals at City Center
Last month, Encores, a series that, since 1994, has yearly presented three seldom-produced Broadway musicals of the past, kicked off its 2016 season with “Cabin in the Sky,” which ran for five months in 1940. While Encores mostly assembles the finest of Broadway’s talent thanks to the work of resident casting director Jay Binder, “Cabin in the Sky” brought audiences a special treat. Tony award winner LaChanze, Tony nominee Norm Lewis, Tony winner Chuck Cooper, Broadway regulars Carly Hughes and Michael Potts led the top-notch talented cast and were directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
“Cabin in the Sky” presents an allegorical battle between heaven and hell, Lewis as God and Cooper as the devil battle for the soul of Potts’ character, Little Joe, giving him a second chance for his place in the after life. At the request of his wife, played by LaChanze, he is brought back to life through the power of prayer and without the knowledge of his deal. Hughes, who played his mistress, gave an incredibly villainous performance and has been cast on a new series for ABC television’s “The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport.” Actors in Encores performances are given the option of using their scripts on stage due to the short two week rehearsal period, but all the leads for “Cabin in the Sky” were entirely off-book.
Encores productions typically run for only one week, so unless a transfer to a Broadway house comes in the near future, you’re out of luck ever seeing this exact production again. A 1943 film version, directed by Vincent Minnelli and starring Ethel Waters, Lena Horne and Louis Armstrong exists, although I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it.
Transfers of Encores productions, while rare, do happen. Recently, Encores productions of “Violet,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” and “Gypsy” starring Patti LuPone all moved over to Broadway from City Center in addition to the current hit and longest running American Musical, Chicago. If you’ve ever seen that production, the on stage orchestra and minimalistic costumes and sets are due to a perfectly faithful production transfer. The gold proscenium arch is even a replica of the one at City Center, where Encores productions have always been staged.
The current season will continue with “1776,” playing March 30th through April 3rd, and “Do I Hear a Waltz?,” running May 11th to 15th. The cast for “1776” has been announced and the talent should have you running out to buy a ticket. John Larroquette, Michael McCormick, Christiane Noll and Santino Fontana are just four of the better known performers who will appear in the production this month.
A more recent addition to the series, Encores Off-Center, has produced each summer three musicals that originally opened Off-Broadway. Helmed by Tony Award winning composer Jeanine Tesori (“Fun Home,” “Shrek,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie”) this will unfortunately be his last summer holding the reins for the series and will present “Runaways,” “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” and “Off-Center Jamboree.” The productions are to star alumni from the program, including Broadway and film luminaries Sutton Foster (“Younger,” “Anything Goes,” “The Drowsy Chaperone”) and Jonathan Groff (“Hamilton,” “Frozen,” “Looking”) performing selections from past Off-Center productions and accompanied by Tesori at the piano.
The productions are not to be missed by any theater fan. Subscription packages are available, as well as single tickets for as low as $35. City Center is located just north of Times Square on 55th street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Head to the box office or the theater’s website for tickets and more information.
New York City Center
131 W 55th Street
New York, N.Y. 10019
(Photos: Accura Media Group)