'Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert" has been a labor of love for Judith Daykin, president and chief executive officer of New York's City Center. Four years ago, coming from 15 years with the Brooklyn Academy of Music where she had just finished a tribute to composer George Gershwin, Ms. Daykin says she "felt a tremendous hunger on the part of the audience for the old shows that don't get produced anymore."
And so was born the series that has smitten the seen-it-all/done-it-all New York audiences and caused highly paid film and television performers to beg for the mere $700-a-week pay scale the not-for-profit "Encores!" can afford to offer.
The series has minimally mounted well-known shows such as "Chicago" (which has just garnered a Tony nomination for the fully staged lavish revival that grew from its "Encores!" production) and little-known shows by high-profile composers, such as the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II show, "Sweet Adeline."
Producers working with a yearly budget of $1.2 million are committed to presenting the original orchestrations of the best scores American musicals have to offer, though not necessarily the best known.
In fact, with an orientation toward preserving the classic American musical, the "Encores!" programs read like an archive. The 1994 season opened with "Fiorello!," "Allegro," and "Lady in the Dark" - not exactly household names, even in theater-savvy New York.
But historic doesn't necessarily mean well-preserved, as the "Encores!" producers have discovered. The show scores from "Sweet Adeline," for instance, were found with the mosquitoes from an outdoor performance still squashed between the pages.
"We've just accepted the fact that some of our budget will go towards restoration," acknowledges Daykin with a sigh. In the case of a badly preserved score, she says, restoration costs could soar to the $80,000 to $100,000 range. If parts simply have to be rebuilt, the price tag might drop to $12,000 to $15,000.
Daykin says an average show, even fairly well preserved, still costs $4,000 to $5,000 for the score alone.
Although they do considerable work on many of the scores, Daykin points out that the music returns to the leasing agency that handles the composer's work. But she is hopeful that once the work has been done, the music will find a market.
"At minimum, I would think some of the orchestras that perform summer pops programs could use the work we've done," Daykin muses.
But her dreams run deeper than the occasional concert. She is hopeful that allowing the songs to be heard on stage, with the full orchestration the composers intended, will influence the next generation of audiences and musicians.
Daykin adds, "This music is our beginning, our heritage. I would hope that the young composers who hear it will lap it up. And we very much hope that by planting these seeds, we are growing our future audiences. That's the plan, at least."