City Center’s Encores! series, which is much renowned for its full-orchestra, concert-style revivals of rarely seen musicals, is currently premiering a stage version of the 1953 MGM movie musical “The Band Wagon,” which starred Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse and introduced the cheery show biz anthem “That’s Entertainment!”
As is often the case when famous film musicals are resurrected for the stage, it’s hard to discern any valid purpose behind Douglas Carter Beane’s sassy but aimless adaptation. Of course, the same could be said about Beane’s heavy-handed, self-indulgent version of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”
Back in the 1980s, three stage versions of MGM film musicals (“Singin’ in the Rain,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Meet Me in St. Louis”) all flopped on Broadway. But the MGM films are apparently in fashion again. “An American in Paris” will hit Broadway in a few months, with “Gigi” following next season.
In “The Band Wagon,” a washed up actor is recruited into headlining what is expected to be a frothy musical comedy. But when its director, a pretentious Brit with a background in the classics, tries to turn it into a serious retelling of “Faust,” disaster ensues.
The staging by director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall (“Anything Goes”) is especially dull, full of generic routines and lacking the grace and grandeur of the film. It also calls out for more than the limited scenic design afforded to an Encores! production.
What it does have is an absolutely fantastic cast including Brian Stokes Mitchell, Laura Osnes, Tony Sheldon, Tracey Ullman, Michael McKean and Michael Berresse. Too bad they can’t all do a revival of a 1950s stage musical, rather than an unnecessary and problematic rewrite of a 1950s film musical that certainly wasn’t broken in the first place.
If you go: ‘The Band Wagon’ is at City Center through Nov. 16. nycitycenter.org