New York City Center Taps Veteran Arts Administrator as Its Next Leader

New York City Center, a nonprofit known for its starry short-run musical revivals as well as its contemporary dance programming, is naming a New Jersey arts administrator as its new leader.

The City Center board has selected Michael S. Rosenberg, currently the managing director of the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, N.J., as its next president and chief executive. Rosenberg will start Nov. 1, succeeding Arlene Shuler, who is stepping down after 19 years at the organization.

“City Center is a singular performing arts center, not just in New York, but in the U.S., with its combination of dance and musical theater,” Rosenberg said in an interview. “It’s can’t-miss artists and performances, time and time again.”

Rosenberg said he had seen multiple programs at City Center over the years, and that he considered a 1988 show he saw there, Bill Irwin’s “Largely New York,” as having significantly influenced his thinking about theater.

City Center, which was founded in 1943 by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and operates in a city-owned neo-Moorish theater in Midtown, is a sizable organization: Its current annual budget is $29 million, and it employs 157 people (some of them part-time).

The chairman of the City Center board, Richard E. Witten, said the organization was in strong financial shape and had multiple applicants from which to select Shuler’s successor. “We saw a lot of people in the process, and Michael stood out repeatedly,” Witten said.

Rosenberg, 54, has been at the McCarter since 2018. He previously spent nearly a decade as the managing director of the La Jolla Playhouse, a San Diego theater with an outsize history of developing Broadway-bound musicals.

City Center is best known for two annual programs: Encores!, which is a series of minimally staged, concert-style productions of older Broadway musicals, many of which have been forgotten or abandoned because — for one reason or another — they have been considered unrevivable, and Fall for Dance, an affordably priced festival of international dance companies.

Encores! is in the early stages of its own transition — Lear deBessonet took over the program during the pandemic, and her first season of in-person programming was bumpy: The initial two shows, “The Tap Dance Kid” and “The Life,” were not particularly well-received, prompting hand-wringing about whether Encores! was in trouble. But then deBessonet directed a rapturously received revival of “Into the Woods” that quickly transferred to Broadway, where it has been both popular and successful. The program also has a new music director, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, and a producing creative director, Clint Ramos, who is working with deBessonet.

Both Rosenberg and Witten said they were fully supportive of the Encores! program. “Not every show was a critical hit, but it was a successful year in terms of what was planned and what Lear hoped to do, and it wound up with a bang,” Witten said. “We’re very excited about the upcoming year.”

Before the pandemic, City Center also ran an Encores! offshoot — Encores! Off Center — that revisited Off Broadway musicals; that program has not yet returned, and Rosenberg said its future had not been decided, but that “it’s another interesting way of opening up the canon and having more projects from which to choose.”

City Center has already outlined plans for a 2022-23 season that is more robust than the one that just ended, which was slimmer than usual because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The next season will include a wide array of dance, including the first Fall for Dance Festival featuring international companies since 2019, as well as work from Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey, the National Ballet of Canada, Dance Theater of Harlem, Ballet Hispánico and many more.

The theater programming will include a fund-raising run of the musical “Parade,” starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond. And then, next spring, Encores! will feature revivals of “Light in the Piazza,” “Dear World” and “Oliver!”