PLASA has announced that Neil Darracott, design engineer at Total Fabrications Ltd, has been elected to the executive committee of the association following the elections, which closed last December. The elections attracted 123 membership votes in total, compared with 104 last year.
Darracott joined Total Fabrications at the start of 2000, heading up the design team responsible for the company's award-winning T2 trussing system. Previously, he gained experience in broadcasting, lighting, stage machinery, rigging, special projects, and demountable structures.
Mick Hannaford (Light Processor), the serving PLASA chairman, has been re-elected for his second three - year term, while PLASA treasurer Sammy DeHavilland of Dare Pro Audio/Deco Leisure, has been re-elected for a three - year term. Newcomer Darracott fills the other three - year term, while Paul Hinkly of LMC Audio, who was co-opted onto the PLASA committee last year, was elected for a further one - year term.
Peter Walker of NSR, who was not re-elected, has served on the PLASA Committee for the past six years, and was for much of that time involved with membership issues, particularly those related to new applications to the association. At the December meeting of the executive committee, chairman Hannaford thanked Walker for his time and hard work over the years he has served with PLASA.
The remaining members of the committee are Paul Adams (PAI Group), Paul De Ville (Lightfactor Sales), Nikki Scott (Stage Technologies), David Hopkins OBE (Audio Design Services), and Diane Grant (DHA Lighting).
Now that the dust has settled and Seussical has opened to almost universal critical ennui (well, Liz Smith liked it), and the producers are resorting to the stratagem of putting Rosie O'Donnell in as the Cat in the Hat, there are a few lessons to be learned:
Workshops lie. In every single story about Seussical, we read that the production's original workshop brought tears to the eyes of one and all. That's the problem with workshops: You do a reading in a smallish room, with no sets or costumes, in front of a audience of friendly, interested parties. The response is almost always favorable. This is the moment when everyone involved becomes hypnotized by the notion that they have a great big hit on their hands. You can learn some things from workshops, but you can't learn how a show will play when it is fully staged and designed. And you can't learn how an audience of strangers, who've paid for their tickets, will react.
Concept is everything. In spite of all the out-of-town firings, the changes in design, and God knows what else, the Seussical team was up against an insurmountable problem: The show was never a good idea. It's a difficult task to make an evening-length entertainment out of books, each of which can be read in 10 minutes or less by even a small child. You have nowhere to go in terms of plot or character development. The solution here was to keep adding more characters and situations from other Seuss books; the result was cluttered, unappealing.
Know your audience. This, apparently was one of the big issues during the out-of-town tryout, as the producers worried that they had a very expensive children's musical on their hands. Thus, the show now features such jarring elements as jokes about cell phones and a trio of chorus boys in black leather, all aimed, presumably, at a more adult audience. Again, the overall effect is of confusion.
Seussical is far from the worst show I've ever scene (hey, you're talking to someone who saw both Moose Murders and Carrie: The Musical), but it is certainly not what it might have been. And while the original designs may have been problematic, the fact remains that the show's problems always were far more fundamental. But that's what happens when trouble sets in out of town: Somebody has to be sacrificed to appease the gods.
Interestingly, the much-maligned Catherine Zuber (who has design a number of shows since exiting Seussical) is designing another musical, Time and Again, for Manhattan Theatre Club. Zuber designed the original production of Time and Again several years ago at La Jolla Playhouse. At the time, the show was eyeing Broadway, mixed reviews and big-time problems with the book put the kibosh on that. The original production, which was pretty elaborate, also featured scenery by John Conklin, projections by Wendall K. Harrington, lighting by Peter Kaczorowksi, and sound by Jeff Ladman. The new production, which is being staged at MTC's tiny Stage II space, features scenery by Derek McLane, lighting by Ken Billington, and sound by Brian Ronan. I saw Time and Again in La Jolla; based on Jack Finney's celebrated novel about an experiment in time travel, it had real problems - the first 15 minutes were almost incomprehensible. On the other hand, the score was simply gorgeous. Let's hope that this time they've gotten it right. Zuber's costumes were terrific then, and I expect they will be again.
Also in New York, the musical version of Jane Eyre opened to a mixed-to-negative press, and speculation is rampant as to whether the producers can keep it open. It's too bad, and not because the show is a sensational piece of writing, because it's not. However, for any reader of this magazine, it has the most original design I've seen in years. John Napier's design involves the use of a circular drum hung above the stage that lowers pieces of scenery to the deck with incredible fluidity and grace. The projection design - by Napier, lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, and Lisa Podgur Cuscuna, are done not with conventional projection equipment but with Vari-Lites. The result is almost mind-bending for any student of design. It's sad that so much innovation has gone to a show that has a shaky future, but it is early days yet, and the producers are publicity committed to keeping the show open, so we'll see. Anyway, it's worth checking out.
The next big British theatre event is at Royal Shakespeare Company, where the entire trilogy of Henry VI history plays has been staged to first-rate reviews. Staged by Michael Boyd, it is designed by Tom Piper, with lighting by American designer Heather Carson, all of whom did a marvelous Measure for Measure at RSC two years ago. US audiences can see these productions when they play Ann Arbor, MI in March (don't ask me - I don't do RSC's booking)...Also at RSC in Stratford is a new production of the 1991 Broadway musical The Secret Garden, which is scheduled to transfer to the West End. The design team includes Anthony Ward (scenery and costumes), Chris Parry (lighting) and Andrew Bruce and Terry Jardine (sound)...Lighting designer Jim Vermeulen makes his Broadway debut in March when the Roundabout Theatre revives Noel Coward's Design for Living, starring Alan Cumming, Jennifer Ehle, and Domonic West. Joe Mantello directs, and the rest of the design team includes Robert Brill (scenery) and Bruce Pask (costumes). The last time Brill and Cumming worked together was on the Roundabout's wonderful revival of Cabaret. The Design for Living cast includes 70s icon Marisa Berenson, who, funnily enough, was featured in the 1973 film of Cabaret...If you happen to be in Salt Lake City any time in January (well, you never know) drop by the city's Public Library and check out an exhibit titled Curtains Up...Is That Really It? It's the work of scenic designer George Maxwell and costume designer David Kay Mickelsen, and it follows the course of the design process from the first meetings right through opening night. It's a fascinating idea and both designers have ties to Salt Lake City's Pioneer Theatre Company, which does, based on the photos I've seen, some fairly spectacular work. The exhibit's address is 209 East 500 South and you can call (801) 524-8200 for more information.
Here's a first look at some of the winners from this year's Entertainment Design Awards, held Dec. 9 at the AMC Empire Theatres in New York. Clockwise from top left: SITI Company design team Darron West, Mimi Jordan Sherin, James Schuette, and Neil Patel accept their award from director Anne Bogart; Winky Fairorth and Michael Tait from Tait Towers chatting with lighting designer LeRoy Bennett; the designers of Blue Man Group Live at Luxor (Todd Perlmutter, Marc Janowitz, Chase Tyler, Caryl Glaab, Kevin Frech, Lauren Helpern, Ross Humphrey, and Matthew McCarthy) onstage as Blue Man Phil Stanton accepts for the team; and actress Glenn Close with costume designer Ann Roth. A full report and photo gallery from the 2000 EDDY Awards and Broadway Lighting Master Classes will appear in the March issue.