New York City Center to Revive a Pair of Musicals About Black Lives

Broadway shows may be off the table until at least January, but when shows do resume, New York City Center is giving two musicals that focus on people of color, but were never revived on the city’s biggest stages, another shot.

The new Encores! season, announced Friday, includes “The Life,” a gritty musical about the hustlers and prostitutes who inhabited Times Square in the early 1980s, and “The Tap Dance Kid,” about an aspiring 10-year-old dancer whose dreams are scorned by his hard-driving lawyer father.

No dates have yet been set, but the theater says it plans to stage the shows in person once it determines it is safe to do so. While Encores! began in 1994 with concert-style presentations, its shows have gotten more elaborate over time, and it has moved from Golden Age musicals to more recent shows that have never gotten full-fledged New York revivals.

“The Life” (1997) — with a book by David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman — will be directed by the Tony Award-winning actor Billy Porter and offers an updated take on the story of a young Black prostitute, Queen, and those who walk the streets with her as they work toward a better life in crime-ridden New York City. Both Chuck Cooper and Lillias White won Tonys for their roles in the original production.

“The Tap Dance Kid” (1983) — with a book by Charles Blackwell and lyrics by Robert Lorick — will be directed by another Tony winner, Kenny Leon. It follows a Black boy from an upper-middle-class family as he nurses a dream of becoming a tap dancer, against his father’s wishes. The musical is based on the 1974 novel “Nobody’s Family is Going to Change” by Louise Fitzhugh.

The third musical, to be announced at a later date, will begin a tradition of including a classic title in a series that typically revives hidden gems.

This season will be the first under Lear deBessonet, the new Encores! artistic director. Clint Ramos, the first person of color to win a Tony Award for costume design of a play for his work on “Eclipsed,” in 2016, will also take on the newly created role of Encores! producing creative director.

The center also announced a five-part documentary series, “Encores! Inside the Revival,” which will debut Oct. 14. The 10-minute episodes, which will be available for free on City Center’s YouTube channel and website, will offer a behind-the-scenes look at the three productions in development.

Two episodes will also focus on shows that were canceled this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic: “Love Life” (1948), which had been set to star Kate Baldwin and Brian Stokes Mitchell in March, and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (2002), which would have put Ashley Park in the flapper dress in May. An Encores! spokesman said those productions were still possible for future seasons.

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