Jeanine Tesori

Jeanine Tesori Credit: Jeanine Tesori

City Center’s much-beloved Encores! series, in which three rarely seen Broadway musicals are revived each year in semi-staged concert productions with full orchestras and starry casts, is finally going to tackle Off-Broadway musicals.

This month, as part of “Encores! Off-Center,” it will stage the 1937 political diatribe “The Cradle Will Rock” and the 1978 feminist piece “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road,” and it will present a concert of Jeanine Tesori’s 1997 musical “Violet” starring Sutton Foster.

amNewYork spoke with Tesori, who is also serving as artistic director of the series. Her musicals range from family-friendly fare, such as “Shrek” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” to more challenging works, such as “Violet.”

How did you get involved with “Encores! Off-Center”?
I’m not sure why they called me, but I love the smaller musicals. There are so many beautiful shows that just got lost in the repertory.

Will it be hard to do shows at City Center that were intended for an intimate, Off-Broadway theater?
We won’t pretend the shows aren’t being done in this space. It’s about getting the audience to still feel that intimacy. I have seen it work. We considered putting the audience onstage. But these are shows with huge ideas. I’ve seen performers hold the audience in their hand, like a solo concert at the Met.

There are so many theater events competing for attention during the summer. What makes this stand out?
There has to be a compelling reason for this, because people can do so many things. What hasn’t been done? But with a $25 ticket, not much more than a movie, City Center is telling the audience to come.

What inspired you to revisit “Violet”?
I didn’t want to do my own work, but they were going to do two titles, and I suggested doing three to make it like a season. It’s been wonderful to go back to it.

What makes Sutton Foster the ideal person to play Violet?
I think what Sutton has, which is so unusual, is that she is vulnerable and authentic and funny and she can balance between them. It’s like being with someone who speaks six languages. She also has a certain confidence. She was just 23 or 24 when we did “[Thoroughly Modern] Millie.”

The “Encores! Off-Center” series plays at City Center Wednesday through July 27. West 55th St. btwn Sixth and Seventh aves., 212-581-1212,

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