Seen on Broadway:
, the Twyla Tharp ballet set to two dozen or so Billy Joel songs, suffered from out-of-town troubles, but you’d never know it from the confident, exciting staging now at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Tharp’s narrative follows five friends from Long Island, taking them from the sunny 1960s through the inferno of Vietnam and its aftermath, finally reaching a kind of reconciliation. In truth, the songs don’t always match what’s happening onstage and, in the first act, the choreography can be a little pro forma. (The sequence set to “Just the Way You Are” looks like basic ballet-class exercises.) But the show only gets better as it goes along, and it's thrillingly performed by a sizzling company of young talents.
The design is one of the most striking to be found on Broadway today. Santo Loquasto’s industrial setting allows singer Michael Cavanaugh and his band to roll downstage, rise in the air, and go wherever is required. Suzy Benzinger’s costumes neatly keep us up on the time frame and provide a sexy showcase for the entire company. The sound, by Brian Ruggles and Peter J. Fitzgerald, is amazingly clear—exposing the lyrics and orchestrations with a crystalline clarity. The real news, however, is Don Holder’s lighting, which takes a rock-concert aesthetic and translates it into theatrical terms. Lush color washes, stunning sidelight, constructivist collages of white beams, scenic “wipes” courtesy of digital light curtains—this is superb work all the way. If you don’t care for ballet or the music of Billy Joel you should probably call for tickets to Hairspray, but if you have at least an open mind on these two topics, you’re likely to find Movin’ Out is a lively, sexy, visually stunning, and even emotionally involving piece of work.--David Barbour
Seen Off Broadway: In Yellowman, now at Manhattan Theatre Club, Dael Orlandersmith looks at internalized racism among blacks. The author plays Alma, a dark-skinned girl, growing up in South Carolina, who forms a deep and lasting bond with her friend Eugene. As they grow older and fall in love, there’s trouble brewing, as Eugene’s light-skinned parents disapprove of the match. Family secrets are exposed, alcoholism rears its head, and, finally, there’s a scene of violence that can’t be taken back. It is, in many ways, a gripping story; unfortunately, the author’s method—in which Alma and Eugene narrate the events—lessens the impact. The most powerful moments, such as Eugene’s bitter confrontation with his unloving father—are more dramatized, but too much of the story is told rather than shown. Orlandersmith and her co-star, Howard W. Overshown, are first-rate, however. MTC’s ultra-wide stage is not ideal for this two-actor effort, but Russell Champa’s highly specific lighting design methodically carves out different playing areas; this is some of his best work. Klara Zieglerova’s black-box setting has an interesting back wall that splits open for color washes and projections. Janus Stefanowicz is the costume designer. I wished I liked Yellowman more…
From the serious to the terminally silly: Debbie Does Dallas is a spoof of the notorious porno classic about a randy high-schooler who will do anything—including prostituting herself and her friends—to raise the funds for a Texas trip (she’s been accepted as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader). Certain seedy acquaintances of mine assure me that Erica Schmidt’s script closely follows the cinematic original; I hope the movie had a few more laughs. What we get is something like a 90-minute Saturday Night Live sketch, and not one of the better ones. Sherie Rene Scott, who, in my book, can do no wrong, gives her all to the title role. I also liked Jama Williamson as the leading airhead in the group (“You mean our grades go on our permanent records?” she asks in alarm), and Tricia Paoluccio as another friend, who’s worried about scuttling her future career in the Senate. Christine Jones’ red, white, and blue set is amusing and Juman Malouf’s costumes and Laura Grace Brown’s sound design are efficient. Shelly Sabel’s lighting is something more—it’s full of smart cues, clever transitions, sly effects. She really knows how to work a mirrorball…
Debbie Does Off Broadway
Son of Drakula is David Drake’s latest one-man, autobiographical effort. Seems his birth name is Drakula, so, still hurting over the lost of his emotionally distant father, he sets out to explore the family connection to Vlad the Impaler. The search leads him to a vampire congress in Romania and an encounter with family ghosts amidst the barbed wire and land mines of Croatia. Drake is a skillful mimic and the first act is filled with amusing eccentrics (his impersonation of Ingrid Pitt, Hammer Horror scream-queen star of the sort-of classic The Vampire Lovers, is a riot). But the second act turns heavily serious and I couldn’t help feeling that Drake was the least interesting person in his own show. Like Yellowman, Son of Drakula is staged on an overly large stage (at Dance Theatre Workshop) and this time Mark T. Simpson’s lighting—he also did the set—helps keep things in perspective. Fashion designer John Bartlett did the costumes, and the clever sound is by Quentin Chiapetta and Media Noise Studios. Where did they ever find that Croatian rendition of “My Heart Will Go On”?--DB
Seen and Heard at Madison Square Garden: Well, actually at the theatre at MSG, which is one of the worst venues to see just about anything, except the ubiquitous Christmas Carol. I stopped by to see the hot Latin group Maná and the people behind their new tour. If you haven’t yet checked out Maná, I recommend that you either catch their show or at least buy one of their albums. They were dubbed the “U2 of rock en Español” by the Wall Street Journal. This current tour is called Revolución de Amor, and is in support of the album of the same name.
Unfortunately, the theatre cut off over 15’ of height from their set, wrecking the rather interesting looking design of white silk borders and legs (the borders got cut for this show.) The design is a co-production of the band's longtime designer Adrian Zurita and Sandro Pujia. The rig is predominantly Vari*Lite with a handful of High End Cyberlights used to good effect as rear floor units. The rig is run off two MA Lighting grandMA consoles, one with conventionals operated by Zurita and automated gear on the other operated by Jesús Guevara. This is a slimmed-down rig from their past tours. The band’s production manager, Javier Barba, who is also a principal in Procolor from Guadalajara, provided all of the lighting, trussing, and audio equipment. The band was rocking the Garden, including a bass beat that was knocking down fake snow from the grid!
The band reminds me a lot of The Police in their prime. They perform in Spanish and give a great show. This tour kicked off in the US in Denver and is now just finishing off here in the States. They are off to Spain for 12 dates, then back to tour around Mexico; next spring has them touring all over South America and then back to the US. I would highly recommend a listen to this hot Latin band. For more information on the band and the tour, check out their website at: www.mana.com.mx--Michael S. Eddy
MTV's Fashionably Loud
As Seen on TV: I stopped by to visit with lighting designer Otis Howard from the Lighting Design Group, who along with programmers Michael Appel and Patrick Dierson and gaffer Tiger McMullan were lighting up the ballroom for MTV’s Fashionably Loud, a combination fashion show with live accompaniment of a variety of bands, including: Cam’ron, Eve, Fat Joe, and the X-Ecutioners; and the fashions of J-Lo, Catch a Fire, Jay Z and Damon Dash’s Roca Wear, and P Diddy’s Sean John. I had just missed Andrew Nikel of VLPS Lighting Services. I will just have to try harder next time. Nikel was in to visit one of the largest VL1000 rigs in the area. In addition, Howard was putting the Martin MAC2000 Performance units through the paces and found them to be very good units. Dierson used the framing feature on the Performance units to build a killer opening for the show. Appel and Dierson were running the rig off two MA Lighting grandMA consoles, with Dierson handling the rig for the bands and audience lighting, and Appel handling the units on the runway and the architectural highlights. Howard was using a rig of almost all automated gear and had only 12 conventional fixtures. An interesting reversal from a few years ago, when most shows would have only had that many automated units. Check your local listings for this one.--MSE
Seen at the Movies: Maybe it's middle age, but increasingly, if I don't see it at a screening, it seems a chore to get myself to a theatre to see the latest Hollywood concoction. But even though I missed Jonathan Demme's The Truth About Charlie screening because I was at LDI, this was one movie I had to seek out. The participation of Demme, one of my favorite directors of the 80s (Melvin and Howard, Stop Making Sense, Something Wild), who finally achieved the success, and Oscar, he deserved with The Silence of the Lambs, was enough to make me overcome my skepticism.
Sorry, folks, it ain't Cary and Audrey...
Why skeptical? That's easy to answer: The Truth About Charlie is a remake of Stanley Donen's 1963 romantic comedy thriller Charade, one of the most perfectly light movie-star soufflés of all time, floating on the charm of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. If ever a film did not call for remaking, this is it. The presence of Thandie Newton and, especially, Mark Wahlberg in the lead parts was further reason for doubt. For good reason: Newton is appealingly waifish, and looks lovely in Catherine Leterrier's elegantly simple costumes. But Wahlberg, as wooden as he's ever been, gives her nothing to play against. Without a compelling central couple, this movie just isn't going to work.
Demme had the promising idea of using the story's Paris setting to launch a tribute to the 1960s French New Wave, a movement that was contemporaneous with the production of the contrastingly high-style Charade. He peoples the movie's sidelines with such iconic figures as Anna Karina, Charles Aznavour, and Agnès Varda, and employs the services of Run Lola Run camera operator Pierre Morel to render a spontaneous, loose-limbed, entirely handheld shooting style. Shooting in winter, Demme and DP Tak Fujimoto give us an overcast City of Light populated by faces of many colors; the film can be beautiful to watch, and sporadically amusing for cinephiles. But that's about it. One question that begs to be asked: Why did Demme choose this dubious project to be his first feature film in four years? Let's hope we see new work from the filmmaker before 2006.
If I hadn't seen I Spy at a screening, it undoubtedly would have been one of those big-studio ventures that would have ended up on my see-it-later-on-video list (a mental document that in its depths probably still includes the 1987 movie version of Dragnet). Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson take Bill Cosby and Robert Culp's roles from the old TV series. There's a funny moment when, Cyrano de Bergerac-style, Murphy feeds "Sexual Healing" lyrics to Wilson, who's trying to court Famke Janssen. Otherwise, there are lots of explosions and equally headache-inducing jokes. Oliver Wood is the DP, and Marcia Hinds-Johnson is production designer.
Hilary Birmingham's Tully is the anti-I Spy: a nice little independent movie, set in rural Nebraska. Maybe too nice--this tale of a handsome ladies' man (Anson Mount) and his troubled farm family never gathers much force. But Julianne Nicholson, now ensconced in the cast of the CBS series Presidio Med, is vibrant as the young woman who rebuffs Tully's smooth moves, and cinematographer John Foster helps to conjure a languorous summertime mood out of the flat landscape.--John Calhoun
Missed Opportunity: I unfortunately ran out of time to make a visit to the Haunted Hotel at the Entertainment Technology program at City Tech, the program that Chip Scott runs in Brooklyn. Under the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, Scott has built a strong program of technical theatre training. I got to see the preparations for the annual Halloween event prior to LDI, but did not have time to see it all fully functioning. The theatre is just coming out of a major renovation and the event, which in the past few years has had to find another home in the school, is back in its proper place. The Haunted Hotel is an ongoing event that grows every year and is built by the students in the program alongside faculty including show control guru John Huntington, with John Robinson handling the lighting design duties. This group puts on a theme park-caliber thrill ride complete with animatronics, audio, and lighting effects to enhance the frights, along with video-aided actors to interact with guests, infrared cameras, and triggers, and a very complicated show control system that only Huntington could dream up.--MSE
Seen, Heard, and Consumed at the Unofficial Fourth Day of LDI: Not having had enough fun standing and running around for four days in Las Vegas, I made the trip out to Los Angeles to help in celebrating TMB’s 20th Anniversary as well as the company's new facility. I have known the TMBers for over a decade and I must say that this was one helluva blowout party. They have always thrown great parties (and booths), but this was one of the best. Marshall Bissett and Colin Waters, along with the entire staff from all of the TMB outposts welcomed a diverse crowd of over 400 people, including manufacturers like Arri, Avolites, ETC, James Thomas Engineering, Le Maitre, Leviton, and Wybron, as well as a lot of dealers, guests, friends, and relations. Good music, plenty of food and drink, and a lot of TMB hospitality. All in all, it was a great way to break in the new digs and a great way to celebrate 20 years in business. Check out the photos on the TMB website of the fun, and if you are in the neighborhood, drop by and check out the koi pond.--MSE
David Barbour and Ellen Lampert-Gréaux with Avolites' Steve Warren (center)
Heard on the West Coast: Tired of living like sardines, Steve Thorburn and Thorburn Associates have moved to more spacious quarters at 20880 Baker Street, P.O. Box 20399, Castro Valley, CA 94546-8399 (that's near San Francisco for all us East Coast folks). Information about this design and engineering firm that specializes in audio, video, control systems, and acoustics can be found at www.TA-Inc.com.--Ellen Lampert-Gréaux
Heard in Paris: LD Tracy Eck was honored at LDI 2002 as Lighting Designer of the Year for a themed project for her work at Walt Disney Studios, the new gate at Disneyland Paris. On the phone from Paris, Eck says she actually got her job at Disney through LDI. She relates that at LDI in Nashville (yes, way back in 1989!) she was a graduate student studying with the late LD Richard Nelson at the University of Michigan. With Nelson, Eck met some people from Strand who knew someone who was looking for someone to work for Disney in Paris. Eck had already worked in France, spoke French, and as they say, the rest is history.--ELG
Movin' Out photo: © Joan Marcus
Debbie Does Dallas photo: © Carol Rosegg