Curtains, the latest Broadway outing by the legendary Kander & Ebb, has all the usual suspects: an all-star ensemble portraying the minions of a Western musical version of Robin Hood updated to 1959 called Robbin' Hoods led by David Hyde Pierce as the show's tune-humming detective investigating the dirty deeds where everyone is a suspect. Also in the lineup are Anna Louizos' sets, Peter Kaczorowski's lighting, William Ivey Long's costumes, and Brian Ronan's sound, all coming together to create a rollicking tongue-in-cheek look at the world of theatre.
Louizos is certainly no stranger to creating madcap settings for a cast of unwieldy characters; take a look at her skid-row-meets-Sesame Street sets for Avenue Q as Exhibit A. However, one of her biggest concerns for Curtains was keeping the settings consistent with the time period while also giving today's theatre patrons what they're accustomed to. “I had to create an environment that looks like [Boston's] Colonial Theatre, which is a very distinguished theatre among theatre aficionados; every show was tried out in Boston before they came to Broadway,” she says. “So I had to create this, and there are a number of scenes that take place backstage. At the same time, we perform numbers from the musical, so I had to give a sense of the scenery for Robbin' Hood that seemed appropriate.”
To that end, Louizos combined realism and whimsy to create scenes both on- and backstage. “I have a lot of painted drops that were very characteristic of the time and are clearly from a musical,” she says, adding that she did a lot of research on the Western-themed musicals of the time — Oklahoma, Paint Your Wagon, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Destry Rides Again — because she wanted to remain true to that time period, which is in stark contrast to today's scenery.
Kaczorowski echoes Louizos' sentiment in keeping the musical within Curtains firmly ensconced in its time period. This is not as easy as it sounds, considering that since 1959, there have been more advances in lighting than in medicine. “I was very conscious about the time period and how the equipment would be used to tell the story,” he says. “There are a few live moving cues, but most of the automated gear sits pretty still. I made a concerted effort to not have a lot of moving lights whizzing around during the production numbers.”
The lighting, like the scenery, also had to differentiate between the action on the Robbin' Hood set and the cloak-and-dagger aspects of the murder mystery. “I tried to make the show-within-the-show have a more colorful look in the numbers. I used to work for Tom Skelton so I channeled him a little bit and thought how he would color it or not,” Kaczorowski explains, paying homage to his mentor who was LD on such shows as Purlie, Gigi, and Shenandoah, among others. He found himself giving the faux show a more burnished and vintage look than he would for a more contemporary production.
Despite the new technology of 2007, Kaczorowski found it easy to reel himself in because what he does today, artistically, is not so different from what LDs did back in the 1950s. “Obviously, we have many, many more lights that are much more powerful, but they are extremely foreign to what happened in 1959,” he explains. “Certainly, there would have been much less wattage back then, but the ideas might have been similar — where the lights came from, their intention, time of day, point of view. Whoever designed a show back then went through the same process that I go through in how to approach a show.”
Luckily for Kaczorowski, while he used the tried-and-true technology of PARs and Fresnels, he found himself relying on Martin MAC 2000 Profiles, Performances, and Washes, as well as ETC Source Fours. The moving rig is controlled by a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog console, and the conventional rig takes its cues from an ETC Obsession console. Kaczorowski depended on the color-mixing abilities of the moving fixtures for much of his warmer shades but also used Rosco R24 and R26 and Lee 113 for the saloon scenes as well as Lee 147, 162, and Roscolux 23 for the oranges in the fort scene.
The LD also found himself using a bit more color in his scheme for Curtains than he normally would. “I don't consider myself one of those designers who uses a lot of color, but I tended toward more warmer hues for the show-within-a-show for the sunsets, the fort, the red saloon,” he says. “I did a lot of cooler and whiter shades and variations of those in the backstage set, and I made sure we went to cool to go to the other place. I wanted to call as much attention to it as possible by going to the opposite color spectrum any time we pulled out of a number within the show.”
While there have also been technological advances on the scenic side, Louizos admits that there is no use of groundbreaking technology on her part. “Our tricks of the trade are pretty well worn,” she says. “The modern tools we're using are to help us move the scenery along. I tried to be respectful to the period by paying tribute to the stylized scenery of the time but also to the taste of today's more sophisticated audiences. I didn't want to take them away from watching the show; I wanted them to feel the scenery was appropriate for what they are watching without it appearing too primitive or self-conscious.” The sets were constructed by Show Motion in Norwalk, CT.
The design team walked a fine line by slicing the story between the joyous make-believe of a Broadway show and the cloak-and-dagger menace backstage in the characters' real lives. Kaczorowski says that's what show folk are all about: Life on stage is supposed to be perfect, but “when you're not [on stage], and you're working through your life and just living, it can be a tough place” — especially when there's a murderer on the loose!