Seen In Princeton: The McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ (under the artistic direction of Emily Mann), is quite often the home of extremely interesting work, from the choice of plays to their design. A recent case in point is their visually spectacular production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Armed with a team of great designers—Riccardo Hernandez, sets; Miranda Hoffman, costumes; Christopher Akerlind, lighting; and Martin Desjardins, sound— Taichman gave the production a modern slant, yet not too far over the top. Hernandez created quite an enticing set, with a raked floor that sloped seamlessly into the back wall on a jaunty angle, adding just the right perspective to a comedy about love and mistaken identity. Scenic elements and occasional pieces of furniture move in an out to help establish the various locales, but the set mostly speaks for itself, with large panels of red roses adding bold color to the stage. And rose petals become a motif for Olivia as she steps out of black mourning dress into a series of lovely, billowing evening gowns in pastel shades—rose petals blanket the stage in a blizzard of color, fall from her hair, and signal the color of her passion, first mistakenly for Cesario, then Sebastian, as the plot unfolds. In the garden, where Malvolio comes across a love letter he believes in addressed to him, the pranksters who have set the scene are “hiding” behind smaller panels with roses, prancing about like errant rose bushes. Akerlind’s lighting is as dramatic as the set, bathing the stage in washes of deep blues, greens, and reds, as well as softer light, or almost darkness when Malvolio is imprisoned. Flying by Foy ensures safe flying for Viola as she is seemingly suspended in the sea, before washing ashore. The sound design encompasses the clarity of the live musicians and singer who add yet another layer of excellence to this stunning production that makes Shakespeare fun, accessible, and a pure feast for the eyes!

Seen On Broadway: West Side Story is back on Broadway for the first time since 1980, and directed by the octogenarian Arthur Laurents (who also wrote the book). When it comes to a pedigree, this 1957 musical has it all: an all-time great score by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (who was a precocious 27 years old at the time), and extraordinary jazz-inspired choreography by Jerome Robbins. With ghosts of the original production still haunting Tin Pan Alley, and echoes of the musical version still reverberating, a new production of West Side Story is a hard nut to crack, but this one has a lot going for it. Joey McKneely did an admirable job of reproducing Robbins’ dances, an essential element for the show to succeed. Also, the decision was made to really accentuate the differences between the Puerto Rican characters, The Sharks and their girlfriends, and The Jets, by having some of the songs and dialog performed in Spanish for a realistic ring (with the English lyrics in the program for non-Spanish speakers). James Youmans created the scenery, which comprises a single set to evoke a New York street scene, with set pieces to represent a drugstore, bedroom, school gym, etc., with the most dramatic moment coming when a highway lowers onto the stage to create the scene for the rumble where Bernardo is killed. Howell Binkley’s lighting varies from large beams of white light cutting through the air to bright colors for the dance scene. He also tones down the level for the more intimate moments between Tony and Maria, and when the light focuses in on the final moment there is not a dry eye in the house. If there were a Tony Award for the best single costume of the season, it would have to go to David Woolard for the party dress worn by Anita (a feisty Karen Olivo, who Binkley also lit in the award-winning musical, In The Heights). I mean this purple dress with hot pink underneath is sexy and shimmies like your sister Kate, evoking the passion and “hot” side of Anita; it also stands in great contrast to Maria, who is dressed like a virginal angel in white. Dan Moses Schreier also gets kudos for the sound design, the orchestra sounds great, the voices are crisp, and Bernstein’s score is being hummed by another generation of West Side Story fans.

West Side Story vendor credits:
Scenery: Hudson Scenic Studios, Show Motion, Blackthorn Scenic Studio, Scenic Art Studios, Blackwalnut, Center Line Studios
Costumes: Tricorne, Barbara Matera, Eric Winterling, Timberlake, Gilberto Designs, Beckenstein Men’s Fabrics
Lighting: PRG Lighting
Sound: PRG Sound