Roberta on the Arts
New York City Center Encores! Off-Center Presents Kurt Vonnegut’s "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater"
Contact Roberta
Jazz and Cabaret Corner
On Location with Roberta
In the Galleries: Artists and Photographers
Backstage with the Playwrights and Filmmakers
Classical and Cultural Connections
New CDs
Arts and Education
Onstage with the Dancers
Offstage with the Dancers
Upcoming Events
Special Events
Culture from Chicago
Our Sponsors

New York City Center Encores! Off-Center Presents Kurt Vonnegut’s "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater"

- Backstage with the Playwrights

One Taste Is All It Takes!
For 11 Convenient NY Locations
Recipes, Catering, and Weekly Specials!

New York City Center Encores! Off-Center

Kurt Vonnegut’s
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Additional Lyrics by Dennis Green
Originally Presented by WPA Theatre
Originally Directed by Howard Ashman

At New York City Center

Skylar Astin, Derrick Baskin, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Nick Choksi
Eddie Cooper, Kevin Del Aguila, Santino Fontana, Clark Johnson
James Earl Jones, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Kevin Ligon
Marla Louissaint, Liz McCartney, Bonnie Milligan
Brynn O’Malley, Kate Weatherhead

Scenic Designer: Donyale Werle
Costume Designer: Clint Ramos
Lighting Designer: Mark Barton
Sound Designer: Leon Rothenberg
Music Coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Orchestrations by Danny Troob
Production Stage Manager: Adam John Hunter
Casting by Carrie Gardner, CSA/Stephen Kopel, CSA
Choreography by Lorin Latarro
Music Director: Chris Fenwick
Directed by Michael Mayer

Press: Joe Guttridge, Director of Communications

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 29, 2016

In a rarely known 1979, Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musical, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, based on Kurt Vonnegut’s 1965 novel by the same title, Santino Fontana singlehandedly keeps the eyes and mind focused on the stage, with his predictably extraordinary performance. This City Center Encores! Off-Center series finale packed City Center with Encores! and Fontana fans, plus fans of James Earl Jones, who appears in a cameo role. The actors hold (but barely use) scripts, as the Encores! events are always very brief runs, usually a long weekend at most, and the actors are appearing between shows and other professional commitments. The series is also a chance for a breakout role, and tonight Skylar Astin, in a secondary role, was in such an esteemed spotlight. Ashman and Menken, later known for Little Shop of Horrors and Disney movie scores, have written music and lyrics on operetta style, with campy double entendres in sarcastic farce, some more magnetic than others. My favorites were “Mushari’s Waltz (Magical Moment)” for Mr. Astin, “The Rhode Island Tango” for Kevin Del Aguila, Kate Weatherhead, and Mr. Astin, “Dear Ophelia” for Mr. Fontana, and “Cheese Nips” for Brynn O’Malley and Company, all to be clarified below.

Mr. Fontana plays the charitable Rosewater Foundation heir, Eliot Rosewater, who is entrusted with his family fortune. Eliot has an obsession about oxygen, in a hazy subplot, and his bizarre, eccentric behavior includes dashing onstage, during an opera production of Aida, beseeching the stars to stop singing, as they’ll more rapidly be smothered in the Egyptian tomb. Eliot’s wife, Sylvia, remarkably played by Brynn O’Malley, is a frustrated woman in a dysfunctional marriage, often called Ophelia by her husband, who escapes to find his roots in Rosewater, Indiana. The characters he finds are reminiscent, yet dated versions, of those in Manhattan Theatre Club’s 2015 Airline Highway. Eliot discovers people of acute neediness, “Thirty Miles from the Banks of the Ohio/Look Who’s Here”. All the while Skylar Astin is working hard to find a substitute for Eliot, as his character, a lawyer, Norman Mushari, will gain a hefty fee if he can land the transfer contract, based on a Foundation legal clause that its leader must be “sane”. Eliot is persevering in helping the poor and sick Rosewater crowd, so he recruits his wife to lavishly entertain the hungry populace, who show up with boxes of Cheese Nips and ruin the gorgeous rug, while stashing silver in their bags.

Kevin Del Aguila and Kate Weatherhead, as Fred and Caroline Rosewater, two no-drama distant Rosewater relations that Mushari wants to profitably slip into Eliot’s job, live in Pisquontuit Rhode Island, scene of the Tango skit. But, suddenly the famous science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout (James Earl Jones), appears, a deus ex machina in a silly hat, and puts Eliot’s mental function into perspective, or so it seems, because the final scenes were like a silent film chase, from Rosewater, Indiana to Rhode Island to Indianapolis. And, I even left out a prior firehouse scene, “Thank God for the Volunteer Fire Brigade”. This show needs tightening, at least 30 minutes cut, here and there, and some plot clarification, along with stripping of incidental characters. The songs began, quickly, to merge in melody, and if it weren’t for the giant postcards, hung above the stage, thanks to Donyale Werle, it would be hard to keep track of setting. Clint Ramos’ costumes are adorable, especially for such a brief production, and lighting and sound, by Mark Barton and Leon Rothenberg, worked perfectly for City Center. Menken’s music had a pulse and tune, thanks to Music Director/Conductor/Pianist, Chris Fenwick. Ashman (and Green’s) lyrics were engaging in their understated-overstated humor, but, as noted, the book and show could be modified for a rousing Off-Broadway revival. Kudos to the leads, especially the indefatigable James Earl Jones, who also warmly narrated throughout, as well as Santino Fontana, Brynn O’Malley, and Skylar Astin.

Brynn O'Malley and Cast
of "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Santino Fontana, James Earl Jones, and Cast
of "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at