Guys and Dolls is currently enjoying a revival at the newly renovated Nederlander Theatre on Broadway. With sets by Robert Brill, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Howell Binkley, sound by Steve Kennedy, and video by Dustin O’Neill, the action is set primarily in Times Square circa 1935, with a scene in Havana offering a romantic interlude.
The stage is framed with a series of bright, flashing signs that evoke the theatre marquees of a bygone era. “They all fly in to establish New York City and Times Square,” says Binkley, who describes the production as “period with a style.” A series of visible trusses are fitted with Philips Solid-State Lighting Solutions/Color Kinetics ColorBlasts, allowing Binkley to mimic colors provided by a large upstage LED/video wall. “There is a lot of scenery, and real estate over the stage is really tight, with only three electrics overhead,” Binkley notes. A mix of conventional and automated fixtures are used, including ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs, and Vari-Lite VL3500s. One of the electrics is hung with all automated fixtures, as its location makes it impossible to reach for refocusing.
In addition to this somewhat limited overhead rig, Binkley uses three large side ladders for addition positions, and his color palettes range from quite a bit of CTO in the book scenes to more saturated colors in the transitions. “This is a big book show and Des wanted to ‘hear’ the book by being able to ‘see’ it,” says Binkley. “Any moodiness in the lighting comes in the transitions. We tried to create a different palette and flavor for each scene without being redundant.” PRG Scenic Technologies and Sign-A-Rama built the scenery, with lighting gear from PRG Lighting.
A major visual element in the show is the large, 22'-wide x 30'-high Toshiba LED wall with 12mm pixel resolution, supplied by Pete’s Big TVs in Delaware. “The launching point for the video was the flight to Havana,” notes O’Neill. “Des had an idea for a sweeping view of the plane coming at the audience, then landing in Havana with the colorful sky and water. The Havana scene is very environmental and helps you forget the trusses and scenery that create New York City.” With a bright blue-green palette, the Havana scene evokes the beauty and romance of old Cuba.
A dark gray Stewart Filmscreen opaque RP screen is hung 5/8" from the face of the LED wall. “We used the LED screen as a rear-projection device,” says O’Neill, who worked closely with Brill on the previz and 3D rendering. “We wanted to extend the scenery and fill in the gaps with the video. There was also a heavy storyboarding process. The entire show is computer-generated, and with this kind of rendering, you only get one or two chances to get it right. We kept it on paper until we were all on the same page and then did 2D animations to show the images and the transitions.”
O’Neill used an old map of Times Square from the 1930s to confirm the location of various theatres and as the basis for his virtual environment that takes the audience on a tour of New York, from Broadway to the underground sewers, with movement in the video bringing the cityscapes alive.
We finally added light and urban textures when we knew the images were right,” he notes. The rendering was done in Autodesk’s 3D Studio Max and Maya, and the image production team also comprised Ari Novak and the animators at The Oracle Group. “Adobe After Effects was the workhorse for color correction and time remapping in the theatre,” O’Neill explains.
The LD and video designer were able to harness the flexibility of their tools. “Howell was very flexible in terms of color and movement, so we didn’t have to nail him down. He could react as rapidly as we did,” says O’Neill. Playback is via a Green Hippo Hippotizer V3 provided by Scharff Weisberg. “We used the Hippotizer for a lot of manipulation of different layers and changing colors, layer by layer. We were always working with the smallest possible pieces of the images,” adds O’Neill.
One of the highlights of the show is “Luck Be A Lady Tonight,” set in the sewers. “We literally took Robert’s drawings and built the sewer pipes in CGI,” O’Neill says. “There is a lot of cinematic motion in this scene as we move down from the streets, past the subway to the sewers. Howell uses an ice blue and electric purple to create a cold world down there.”
During tech, two full MA Lighting grandMA consoles and a grandMA light were used. Electrician Eric Norris programmed the conventional lighting fixtures on the grandMA light, with David Arch serving as moving light programmer and Tommy Hague on the Hippotizer. In show mode, one unified cue stack is triggered from the grandMA and run by Norris, particularly useful for the show’s fast-paced action, such as in the opening number, “Runyonland,” where lighting, video, dancers, lead characters, and scenery shift rapidly.