Friday, July 29, 2016

Jill Krementz covers "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater"

Kurt Vonnegut (center) with the original cast and crew of Rosewater. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are in the front row — Ashman second from left in black sweater, and Menken on far right. (Photograph © by Jill Krementz; all rights reserved).
“Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You Mr. Rosewater”
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street
Friday, July 29 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 30th; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

I remember vividly the first time that Kurt and I attended an Encores! performance. It was a revival of Betty Comden and Adolph Green's 1960 musical “Do Re Mi,” opening at City Center on Thursday, May 6, 1999. Betty Comden had called me earlier that day, apologizing for the last-minute invitation, but saying that she had an extra pair of tickets for the performance.

I checked with Kurt and we accepted with pleasure. Our seats that night were fabulous ... way down front on the center aisle. The lights dimmed, the overture played, and the musical — which starred Nathan Lane, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Heather Headley — began. I was somewhat distracted by the sound of someone seated behind me ... singing along ... and when I turned around I was startled to see that the disembodied voice belonged to Liza Minnelli.

Jeanine Tesori, Artistic Director of Encores! Off-Center with Michael Mayer the Director of " Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You Mr. Rosewater."
Alan Menken in front of the theater on opening night of Encores! revival.
During intermission I saw Ray Lamontagne and his wife Monica, both of whom I recognized from the day I spent photographing the official opening of Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Camp. I knew that Ray was the camp's chairman. I did not realize, until we got home and I had a chance to really read the Playbill, that Ray was also the chairman of City Center.

Because Kurt and I had enjoyed the evening so much, I called Ray to see if we might be able to become regular season subscribers. It was a somewhat naïve request because I had no idea that Encores! was as popular as it was. Ray called back somewhat apologetically to report that the best he could do was a pair of tickets “way down front.” Talk about music to my ears — and to Kurt's — we love sitting up close! And that is how we ended up with season tickets: two seats on the aisle in the third row.

Kurt died in April of 2007, but I've remained an enthusiastic Encores! subscriber, looking forward to each year's presentations. I still remember the last time we attended a performance together, because my husband turned to me during intermission and said, “I wish that Encores! would do one of my plays.”

And now they have.

He would have been ecstatic. I know I am. "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" brings back many happy memories. The original production, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, opened on October 14, 1979 at the Entermedia Theater. The following month, on November 24, Kurt and I got married, so it was a time filled with joy for both of us.

I wish KV could have been sitting in that aisle seat beside me on opening night, and I know he would have been bursting with happiness.

I'll be returning for all the remaining performances so if you hear anyone in the audience humming along when the people of Rosewater County sing “Thirty Miles from the Banks of the Ohio/Look Who's Here,” that could be me.

Lily Vonnegut in the lobby before the curtain went up. She is standing in front a poster for the show and a basket of red roses. Each rose had a tag attached saying:

In "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," millionaire Eliot Rosewater transforms a small town by giving its community kindness respect ... and all of his inheritance.

We may not be millionaires, but we can all make a difference.

Post a picture of yourself with this rose and a statement about respect, then Pass The Rose to someone else!
Curtain Call with cast holding many tiny Rosewaters. The actor dressed in all white is Santino Fontana (Eliot Rosewater) and next to him James Earl Jones (Kilgore Trout) in a furry hat with earmuffs.
Curtain call on Opening night as the cast of 16 welcomes composer Alan Menken on to the stage.
Menken takes a bow.

Director Michael Mayer then joined Menken and cast on stage. The audience was on its feet.
Lily with her friend Alex Scharfman, a very successful film producer.
James Earl Jones backstage after the show.
Julia Chen Myers (costume intern); Clint Ramos (Costume Designer), Evan Prizant, assistant costume designer, and Marla Louissaint (cast member).

Ramos has designed the costumes for every Encores! Off-Center show since the series inception under Jeanine Tesori's leadership.
Jeanine Tesori flanked by cast members Kevin Del Aguila, and Derrick Baskin.
Jeanine Tesori and Arlene Schuler, President and CEO of New York City Center.
Lily with Alan Menken (left), Santino Fontana (center), and Rebecca Naomi Jones (right).
Flynn Jones with his dad, James Earl Jones.
Alan Menken with Jeanine Tesori.

Anna Rose Menken, a pop rock singer, songwriter, and actress
with three albums out. She's 31.
Writer Michael Patrick Hearn with Alan Menken. Lily Alia (Manager, Musical Theater Programs), Meg Brown (Management Assistant), and Lanie Trafford (Membership Associate).
One of the funniest songs in the first act is "Cheese Nips," so of course they were among the delicacies served at the after party.

T-shirts are also on sale in the lobby.
A very happy Menken at the end of the evening.

Upcoming projects include "Kicks" (Theatrical); "Beauty and the Beast," and "Sausage" (films) and "Tangled" (for Television).
Lyricist Howard Ashman (May 17, 1950-March 14, 1991) and Kurt Vonnegut photographed by Jill Krementz. during a rehearsal of "Rosewater." Seated behind them is Edie Vonnegut, Kurt's eldest daughter, who was the lead producer. The musical was originally presented at the WPA Theater and moved on to the Entermedia.

Ashman and Menken began their collaboration with "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" (1979), which Ashman directed and wrote both book and lyrics. Their next musical, "Little Shop of Horrors" (1982), , became a long-running success and led to a 1986 feature film. The partnership's first Disney film was "The Little Mermaid" (1989), followed by "Beauty and the Beast" (1991).

After his death, some of Ashman's songs were included in another Disney film, "Aladdin" (1992).

This photojournal is dedicated to Howard and KV with much love.

Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved. Contact Jill Krementz here.