Surprisingly, given its setting and subject matter — the joys and woes of a Jewish milkman in early 20th-century Russia — Fiddler on the Roof has proved to be one the most international of Broadway musicals. There's a full-scale bus-and-truck tour out right now in the United Kingdom, playing weekly engagements. David Howe's lighting design was created to give the production a clean, uncluttered, lyrical look, and also be assembled and come apart quickly for the weekly move.
Charles Camm's set is a series of grey wooden portals that form a box in which scenic elements track or fly in, with a cyc of RP screen at the back. “This element provided plenty of scope for sunrises, sunsets, and for strong semi-realistic moments of complete silhouettes,” says Howe (the latter effect is somewhat reminiscent of Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer's work on Ragtime, a show that, in a way, functions as a sequel to Fiddler on the Roof). “Over the course of the show, the set is broken down, with major wall elements removed,” adds the LD. “This forces the show into a bleak, Cinemascope feel.”
Howe adds that his color palette reflects the show's tone: “The first half is full of light humor and has a real warmth and depth,” so he made use of Rosco 03 (Dark Bastard Amber), Lee 777 (Rust), L120 (Deep Blue), and R09 (Pale Amber Gold). “The second act becomes harder and more brutal,” he says, “so the palette shifted into harder blues such as R68 (Sky Blue), L200 (double CT blue), and L202 (1/2 CT blue).”
The touring schedule allows 12 hours for load-in, so Howe also added a moving light rig for flexibility. “The moving light focus time is short, therefore I chose [Vari*Lite®] VL1000TSs™ [with a tungsten source], City Theatrical AutoYokes, and Strand Lighting Pirouettes. The Vari*Lites, with their shutter function, provided some very neat and tidy focusing for specials, along with the beautiful glass template projection and wide zoom, which gave me lots of possibilities for texturing the whole set without losing intensity. The Pirouettes (with scrollers) are used to produce either really tight soft-edged specials or a series of very smooth movable washes, which are perfect for the bigger color moments, and for keeping the musical numbers fluid.”
Generally, the automated units' movements are subtle and kept to a minimum, except for one number, “Tevye's Dream,” a fantasy sequence in which the dead come to life, warning against an impending marriage in the family. In this number, says Howe, “The Vari*Lites do most of the work, providing an ever-moving texture of templates, using Vari-Lite's Dust gobo, which, I think, is the most beautiful break-up ever. With few other lamps used (except floor-mounted PAR-16 birdies), the Vari*Lites track the dead family members in ever-changing hues of Acid Yellow and Heavy Cyan.”
Also used in the production are three DHA Digital Light Curtains, fitted with medium-beam 250W 12V lamps. “These provide stunning backlight shafts into the set,” says Howe. “They are used throughout, but come into their own towards the end when the tone becomes bleaker and the characters are lifted out in cold winter's backlight. No other unit has the intensity, and the flat beam quality, which make these units so essential to the plot.”
Howe adds that touring electricians Brian Cook and Simon Morris are responsible for moving and refocusing the show each week. “The venues, all major touring houses in the UK and Ireland, vary hugely in terms of stage space and depth,” he says, adding that, in some cases, the front truss cannot even be hung. Therefore, he says, “There are two available light plots, enabling them to switch from one to the other easily.”
The production's equipment list also includes 50 ETC Source Fours (of varying kinds) five Selecon 90° ellipsoidals, six Strand Cantata fresnels, 14 Strand Alto 2.5kW fresnels, four Rainbow scrollers, 36 PAR-64s, and seven PAR-16 birdies (the production's two followspots are house equipment). Control is provided by a Strand 520i console. Fiddler on the Roof continues touring through July.