PETER KACZOROWSKI'S HOT STREAK GETS HOTTER WITH THE PRODUCERS

You need two things to be a successful theatre LD: (1) talent and (2) good connections. That Peter Kaczorowski is talented is beyond question. As for number two — consider the company he keeps. Two seasons ago, he lit the smash musical revival of Kiss Me, Kate, directed by Michael Blakemore and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, plus two Susan Stroman-directed musical hits: the dance evening Contact and the revival of The Music Man. This past season, he was back working with Stroman on a little something called The Producers.

Ah, The Producers. Those of you who have spent the last year in Yemen or rural Macedonia may be unaware of the Broadway musical version of Mel Brooks' film farce. The rest of the world, however, spent the summer trying to claw its way into the St. James Theatre, where Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick have been giving career-defining performances as a pair of losers who scheme to make millions off a sure-fire musical flop called Springtime for Hitler. This kind of pandemonium takes Broadway once a decade, if that: The critics swooned. Awards were given by the cartload. Each day, a line of the desperate forms outside the St. James, hoping for cancellations that evening.

And why not? Mel Brooks' book (written with Thomas Meehan) ruthlessly spoofs every Broadway musical cliché, even as it offers audiences the pleasures of an old-fashioned book musical--the gags; the chorus girls; the simple, tuneful songs; the production numbers. Susan Stroman's production celebrates Broadway musicals while reveling in their absurdity.

Aiding Stroman at every step is the lighting of Peter Kaczorowski. As collaborations go, theirs is a thing of beauty. Stroman's shows are machines built for speed; she brings her distinctive sense of movement to every production. Kaczorowski is unique among Broadway musical designers, in that his work rarely calls attention to itself; instead, it feels like an extension of Stroman's direction, keeping time, adding emotional color, and generally shaping and heightening each theatrical moment.

LAUGH-PROVOKING LIGHTING
This is never clearer than in one of The Producers' early production numbers, “I Want to Be a Producer.” Max Bialystock, played by Lane, has attempted to lure nebbishy accountant Leo Bloom (Broderick) into his hair-brained scheme for staging an overcapitalized flop musical, then absconding with the money. Leo is initially horrified; then, back at his office, he begins to daydream. The number begins with Leo's colleagues singing about their colorless lives. “There are six Martin MAC 2000s acting as downlight on the six accountants,” says Kaczorowski. This being a Mel Brooks show, the black accountant launches into a Paul Robeson parody; the lights switch color, with a blue downlight for the soloist. Then another color switch happens, with a single light picking out Matthew Broderick, as he begins to sing.

So far, so good. Then the set's six file cabinets open up to reveal six chorus cuties. At this point, the MACs iris open to focus on the girls, while corresponding units on the house truss pick them up as well. Later in the number, a sign flies in, in which the words “Leo Bloom Presents” are spelled out in lights. By now, we're in the middle of Leo's fantasy life, with glamour lighting to match. As reality returns, however, Kaczorowski ends the number with a joke. “He gets to the last line of the song, which is ‘I want to be a producer/Because it's everything I'm not,’” says the designer. “As the sign recedes and the office comes back into view, each letter on the sign goes off individually, until it gets down to ‘O.’ It's a nice parallel to Leo's realization that he's not cut out for producing.”

Time and again, Kaczorowski's lighting works intimately with Stroman's staging ideas. In the Act II duet “That Face,” Leo falls for Ulla, the Swedish bombshell whose job description includes typing, filing, and belting numbers like “If You've Got It, Flaunt It.” “That Face” is typical of The Producers' goofy romanticism; as Leo sings about Ulla, Kaczorowski uses the MACs to project her face on the walls of the set. When Ulla chimes in, the walls are covered with Broderick's face. But then, every number in the show goes over the top sooner or later. “Keep It Gay,” performed by swishy director Roger DeBris, starts out as a statement of his personal philosophy, then concludes with the high-stepping introduction of his Village People-like production team (theatre insiders will be amused by the appearance of Shirley Markowitz, the ultra-butch LD); the number ends, says Kaczorowski, “with everyone going to the disco,” with a frenzy of moving lighting created by the MAC 2000s.

It all comes together in “Springtime for Hitler,” the opening number of Max and Leo's chef d'oeuvre. Stroman has provided a staging that just won't quit, adding climax on climax for a display of riotous bad taste unrivaled on Broadway today. Kaczorowski notes that the number breaks down into several sequences. First, there is the opening in front of a Tyrolean drop, with chorus boys and girls in lederhosen delivering the verse. Then there's the “Follies number,” with an unctuous tenor singing the chorus as showgirls in headdresses depicting various German accomplishments (beer, pretzels, sausage) parade down a staircase. This is followed by the “Judy Garland” moment; Roger DeBris, having taken over the role of Hitler at the last moment, sits on the edge of the stage à la Judy for a lovefest with his fans. After that, there's the “tap challenge,” in which Hitler tries to outdance other Fascist leaders. “Then the Storm Trooper line, the tilting mirror [creating a Busby Berkeley overhead effect], the curtain call--it doesn't stop,” says Kaczorowski, who provides a parade of looks, including tight close-ups, full-stage tableaux, and chase sequences for lights placed on the staircase and the German Eagle that hangs over the stage. Lighting again provides the final punctuation point; as the number ends, Carmen Ghia, Roger's lover, is picked up by a MAC 2000 as he dashes up the theatre aisle with a bouquet of flowers.

NO ROOM AT THE ST. JAMES
None of this was easily accomplished in the St. James Theatre, which has a treacherously shallow stage space. “I basically did the show with three light pipes and three ladders,” says Kaczorowski, who also used striplights and some front-of-house positions. Also, he says, “Susan would call Robin [Wagner, the set designer] in rehearsal and say, ‘We need another drop,’” says Kaczorowski. “In the middle of the process, the space got smaller and smaller. I called her and said, ‘Stop having ideas!’”

The space challenge was one reason Kaczorowski chose the new Martin MAC 2000. “I had to get a lot done in a small space,” he says. “The MAC is 1,200W. It's an HMI source, which is quite bright. I needed to get some serious color onstage. I looked at a lot of other lights that were okay, but they were only 750 or 575W.” Also, he says, “I'm over moving gear that can't do color-mixing. It's pointless not to have that, especially for theatrical applications.” With the MACs, he says, “You can do live color changes without going to a color chip or changing wheels; you can easily fade into another color.”

The MACs aren't perfect, Kaczorowski notes. “Their motor speed is a little slow, especially if you want a big bump with all the units coming together at the end of a number, but they're fantastic lights. They're hugely bright, they're really clean. Even their tints are pretty darn good--you get a nice pale pink, a nice bastard amber. You can match the color quality to the other conventional lamps in the rig--and they're accurate and they repeat themselves. We had a little data problem with them at the beginning; every once in a while there's a little flutter, but [production supervising electrician] Rick Baxter made it go away. Also, when a lamp goes, you can really see it, and change it. It's not that slow degradation that you get with other lamps.”

To deal with the space crunch, Kaczorowski says he created “a number of systems that changed color and weren't dependent on scenery to get focused. There's the system of backlights that falls off the alpine drop in ‘Springtime for Hitler,’ for example, or the sidelight that falls on the sides of the ‘Leo Bloom Presents’ drop. In Chicago [where the production tried out] we had the space to store the scenery in the wings and I had the open stage space to focus the lights. But at the St. James, the scenery is hung six stories high. At work calls, if you wanted to fix a piece of scenery, they had to fly in everything else first, and stick it someplace. That meant the stage was filled with sets. I didn't have a prayer of getting an empty stage to point lights. It was the same story with Steel Pier, so I laid the show out with very open systems that worked in multiple locations, and they all scrolled.” In addition, the automated units functioned as refocusable specials in various scenes.

Conventional lighting in The Producers is controlled by the ETC Obsession 2000, with moving lighting run off a Wholehog II from Flying Pig Systems; the two light boards are MIDI-linked together. Kaczorowski says he took a chance with the ETC board: He went to Chicago with the Obsession 1500, saying “I had heard a lot about Obsession 2000 bugs.” Then again, he says, “I knew there would be a lot of chases in the show, and I had heard that the Obsession 1500 had problems coping with chases, because of its processor. Sure enough, during ‘Springtime for Hitler,’ when the stairs and the eagle where chasing, every time we hit the go button to execute internal cues, we could see a burp in the ongoing chases.” As a result, the LD switched over to the Obsession 2000 for New York, and the problem was eliminated. “We sent the disk from the 1500 to ETC, and they did the conversion. Paul Miller, my first assistant, went to the ETC office and worked with them. Some things had to be reprogrammed manually, but most of it was easy to do.” (There are many moments in the show that involve chase sequences, because of the numerous electric signs built into the sets, especially in the finale, in which we see signs depicting all of Max and Leo's future hits, including South Passaic and She Shtupps to Conquer.)

Besides Miller and Baxter, other personnel on the project included automated lighting programmer Josh Weitzman, assistant lighting designers Mick Addison Smith and Philip S. Rosenberg, head electrician Joe Pearson, and assistant electricians Todd Davis and Tom Furgeson. Lighting equipment was supplied by Fourth Phase New Jersey.

The Kaczorowski-Stroman relationship continues this month with a new Broadway musical, Thou Shalt Not. Based on Emile Zola's novel Thérèse Raquin, this steamy dance melodrama is a tale of adultery and murder in 1940s New Orleans, with a score by Harry Connick, Jr. (Kaczorowski spent the summer lighting the Seattle Opera's Ring Cycle, the conclusion of a multi-year project). Obviously, Thou Shalt Not will be light years away from The Producers in tone and style, but then each of the LD's collaborations with the director/choreographer has been totally different from the one that came before. The real fun is seeing where they go next.

Contact the author at dbarbour@primediabusiness.com.

THE PRODUCERS
Lighting Equipment

14

ETC 5° Source Fours

117

ETC 10° Source Fours

58

ETC 19° Source Fours

122

ETC 26° Source Fours

42

ETC 36° Source Fours

23

ETC Source Four PAR NSPs

26

ETC Source Four PAR MFLs

10

Altman 6" 750W fresnels

8

Lighting & Electronics 500W Mini-10s

59

L&E Mini-Strips 6'3" 30-light 3-circuit

3

Altman 5" Micro-Strips

1

Altman 3'4" Micro-Strip

4

Martin Professional MAC 500s

41

Martin MAC 2000s

3

Lycian 1293 3kW xenon followspots

179

Wybron Coloram scrollers

2

MDG Atmosphere haze machines

2

Bowen 10"-diameter variable-speed fans

197

Tophats for ETC Source Fours

8

Tophats for ETC Source Four PARs

24

Tophats for Wybron Colorams

11

Source Four iris kits

64

Source Four lens barrels

8

ETC Source Four PAR VNSP lenses

8

ETC Source Four PAR NSP lenses

8

ETC Source Four PAR MFL lenses

8

ETC Source Four PAR WFL lenses

1

ETC Obsession 1500 console

2

Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles