Seen and Heard at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts:
A pre-opening event promoting two excellent exhibits, one chronicling composer Richard Rodgers' centennial and another exploring children's books in performance. After some introductory remarks by Performing Arts Library executive director Jacqueline Z. Davis and Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, the Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg curator of exhibitions, Rodgers' daughter (and composer and children's book writer) Mary Rodgers spoke.
Rodgers said that her father taught her to play the top melody of a song when she was four; she also said her first musical experience was Jumbo, a Rodgers and Hart extravaganza that played in New York's Hippodrome and featured Jimmy Durante. She noted that her father's music has become "part of world culture," citing a Queen's Jubilee celebration that featured thousands of Brits singing "You'll Never Walk Alone." "They think it's a soccer song," she said wryly.
Rodgers then had to depart for a Today Show taping--everybody's getting on that Rodgers centennial bandwagon--so our group followed Robert Taylor, curator of the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, through the Rodgers exhibition. Music by Richard Rodgers, which opened on Rodgers' birthday, June 28, is a multimedia chronological survey of his vast career. On display are original designs, promotional artifacts, photos, published songs, manuscript scores, libretti, scrapbooks, and prompt scripts. The audio portion of the exhibit features an ambient soundtrack with orchestral and ballet music and two touchscreen audio stations with headphones, which allow visitors to select from over four hours of commercial and non-commercial recordings of Rodgers' songs.
a poster for
After a brief discussion of Rodgers and Hart vs. Rodgers and Hammerstein, Taylor began the tour. Some Rodgers and Hart highlights include Babes in Arms; I'd Rather Be Right, which featured George M. Cohan; The Boys From Syracuse, which the Roundabout is reviving; Pal Joey, "possibly the first musical to feature an antihero"; and By Jupiter, Hart's last collaboration with Rodgers. Rodgers and Hammerstein highlights include: Oklahoma!; Carousel; several concept musicals, including Allegro, Me and Juliet, and Pipe Dream; South Pacific, "a very liberal musical"; The King and I; Flower Drum Song, another show that's coming back; and The Sound of Music, Rodgers and Hammerstein's last collaboration. Also represented in the exhibition are Rodgers' post-Hammerstein collaborations, including I Remember Mama, and No Strings, the only show for which Rodgers wrote both the lyrics and the music.
an original sketch by costume designer Lucinda Ballard for
Taylor handed our party over to Cohen-Stratyner, who guided us through the Children's Books in Performance exhibition. The family-friendly exhibition explores performances gathered from children's literature. Cohen-Stratyner said the only two rules about exhibit materials were: 1) they had to be written for children specifically; and 2) they had to be books first, not radio programs or theatre, TV, or film productions.
a poster for a performance of
Treasure Island is one of many artifacts on display
The exhibition is divided into four sections: Fairy Tales and Fables; Young Adult or Advisory Fiction; Fantasy; and "Please Read." Like the Rodgers exhibition, Children's Books is multimedia, featuring projections of Alice in Wonderland artwork, videos of animated books, and a "radio broadcast" of kiddie adventure shows (audio engineering of the show is by Daniel Sbardella, with troubleshooting by Andrew Maloney and the playback unit staff). Other credits on the exhibition include: Donald J. Vlack, exhibit design; Robert J. McGlynn, graphics and brochure design; Anthony Walcott, Herbert Ruiz, and Rene Ronda, installers; and Grace Owen, conservator.
A related film series, Featuring: Children's Books in Performance, will run in conjunction with the exhibition on Wednesday afternoons from July 17 through August 28 at the NYPL Donnell Library Center, 20 W. 53rd St. For more information on the films only, call (212) 621-0609. After reading through the offerings, which include many silent and hand-tinted films, I plan on taking my inner child to see as many of these as possible.
Music by Richard Rodgers will be on view through September 28 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Vincent Astor Gallery; Children's Books in Performance runs through October 31. Hours are Monday and Thursday from noon to 8pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from noon to 6pm. For more information, call (212) 870-1630, or visit the Library's website at: www.nypl.org. --Liz French
Seen, Heard, and Definitely Felt at the Minetta Lane Theatre: Thunder Knocking on the Door, the blues and rhythm musical written by Keith Glover, with music and lyrics by Keb' Mo' and Anderson Edwards (additional music and lyrics by Glover). A stellar cast (Leslie Uggams, the incredible Chuck Cooper, Peter Jay Fernandez, Marva Hicks, and Michael McElroy) is supported by a stellar design team: Eugene Lee, sets; Toni-Leslie James, costumes; Natasha Katz, lights; and Acme Sound Partners, sound.
It was sometimes hard to know where to look on the Minetta's tall, wide stage--should I scope out the band, nestled in the porch-like bottom section of Lee's multilayered set? Or the actors, who played in front of Lee's side-of-a-barn wall with Egyptian pyramid cutout, complete with neon edging and eye atop? And which actor? They all sang and emoted so well, and their clothes were perfect. James outfitted the mythological bluesman Marvell Thunder (Fernandez) in flashy Zoot suits with Egyptian motifs; she also represented the transformations of Hicks' Glory from happy-go-lucky teenager to blind girl in dowdy nightgown to red-hot mama in 60s party frocks perfectly. And there's an Ike Turner-esque sharkskin number that McElroy sports when he sings "Big Money." Katz's lighting spotlighted the talent using lots of flash and thunder and eerie green lighting for Thunder; she also pulled off a neat little trick with a party dress that turns from red to white. At least I think it was Katz's trick; I don't know, 'cause I wasn't looking at the right thing, evidently.
It seems to me that dealing with the sound on this show could turn a designer's hair gray. Acme pulled it off excellently, especially when Thunder and Glory duel on guitars (it's actually the band playing, but you'd almost not notice) and when everybody's singing at once. A clear, solid sound prevailed throughout. I'm raving at this point, but I liked almost everything about Thunder (a quibble: a few too many overlong ballads), most definitely. --LF
Seen at the Movies: Jacques Audiard's Read My Lips (or Sur Mes Levres, as it's known in France) is an offbeat romantic thriller, both consciously Hitchcockian and unmistakably current in feeling. The stars are Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Cassel, two odd ducks that the filmmaker makes you believe are meant for each other. Devos is an awkward, hearing-impaired Paris office worker who hires Cassel, a rough-hewn ex-con, as her assistant. Theirs is a Fred-and-Ginger affair in reverse—she gives him class (sort of), he gives her sex (again, sort of). Sparks fly, but nothing explicitly carnal happens. Instead, they bond over some intricately worked out illicit activity that neither could accomplish on his or her own.
Read My Lips won three Cesars, including Best Actress for Devos, Best Screenplay for Audiard and co-writer Tonino Benacquista, and Best Sound, awarded to sound editor Pascal Villard and mix engineer Cyril Holtz. The soundtrack is indeed a masterful element here, often conveying the limited aural landscape experienced by the heroine as she removes or readjusts her hearing aids. The cinematography, by Matthieu Vadepied, also represents a major contribution; with more and more digital features out there, it's nice to see a DP embracing the possibilities of grain. (In the production notes, the director says of his collaboration with Vadepied, "I think we share a taste for a rough art kind of cinema. If we stuck to our way of thinking, we'd shoot with hand-cranked cameras and arc lights….") Costume designer Virginie Montel, makeup artist Frederique Ney, and hair stylist Pierre Chavialle all contribute to the main characters' outcast personas, though I found Cassel's matted black coiffure to be a little over the top. Michel Barthelemy's production design completes the handsomely crafted picture.
From the UK, Sandra Goldbacher's Me Without You covers a dozen years or so in the turbulent friendship of two young women, played by Anna Friel and Michelle Williams. Big chunks of the late 1970s and 80s are signified by iconographic soundtrack selections and the often quite witty costume designs of Rosie Hackett and makeup and hair designs of Christine Blundell. Though Friel is the real fashion plate here, with a peroxide job giving way to Louise Brooks bob, my favorite outfit may be the belted garbage bag Williams wears to a punk-era party. The production design, by Michael Carlin, is also dramatically tuned to period, particularly in the abode of the Friel character's mother (played by Trudie Styler), who redecorates every few years to echo the latest pop cultural rumblings. Deep white shag carpeting, anyone? Apart from the design elements, I found the movie to be off-putting, especially because Friel's character is pretty irredeemably hateful. The American Williams, on the other hand, adopts a convincing British accent and does agreeably understated work.--John Calhoun
Seen and Heard at the TV Studio: I stopped by the Sony Stages on West 54th Street to watch some of the shoot for MTV's Wannabe, where average fans emulate their favorite performer or group. In this show, which is a spinoff of Becoming, there are three teams that compete for a raucous audience and three insiders, who know the band or performer. The audience gets to vote on which of the three groups is the closest to the real thing, and the winners get to perform on a larger performance stage. With lighting design by the Lighting Design Group’s Otis Howard and scenic design by Ron Norsworthy, the studio is transformed into three stages surrounding the audience. The wannabe performers compete on one stage; the insiders are on a small side stage; and the winning group gets to perform on a larger performance stage with dancers, a mood enhancing set, and some wild lighting effects. The set wraps all four sides of the studio with translucent Plexiglas and aluminum studs; some judicious backlighting and some automated lighting for texturing created an excellent club atmosphere for the show.
Unfortunately, Howard took a dive off the stage during setup and there was no one in the mosh pit to catch him. He ended up with four breaks in one leg and ankle, so the day I stopped by, LDG designer Rita Kogler was taking time away from virtual lighting to fill in for Howard. The crew had the Wannabe dancers hold up a large get-well sign for Howard. Kogler was ably assisted by the Tiki Lounge crew, including automated lighting programmer Patrick Dierson, conventional programmer Mike Appel, and gaffer Kevin Uribe (who spent much of the shoot up to his elbows in a recalcitrant Vari-Lite rack.)
Dierson, whose toy road case is actually larger than the case for the grandMA, has found a new tracking feature on the MA Lighting grandMA console, so keep your eyes peeled for a press release from either Mr. Falconer or Mr. Gordon of A.C.T. Lighting (formerly A.C. Lighting.) If you catch Wannabe on MTV, keep an eye peeled backstage right for signs of Dierson and the Tiki Lounge crew rocking along with the winning acts. During my visit, I caught the end of the Outkast playoffs and the beginning of the Enrique Iglesias wannabe. After watching the performances and audience, I am scared for the future.--Michael S. Eddy