Broadway's Imperial Theatre is housing a sham.

The stage is full of cheaters, grifters, thieves, and ne'er do wells. But what can you expect from a musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin? This new musical, by David Yazbeck of The Full Monty fame, stars Tony-winner John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz as the title con men, whose duplicitous deeds cheat unsuspecting marks out of their money and jewels along the French Riviera.

LD Kenneth Posner used picture postcards of St. Tropez, Monte Carlo, Nice, and other swanky locales as his inspiration. “At night, when the moon is reflecting off the water and the light of the casinos are sparkling on the horizon was the image and the inspiration for the mood and the quality of light,” Posner explains. “I did a lot of research on light reflecting off of pools and fountains and looked at a lot of moving water and experimented with different combinations of patterns in moving lights.”

To help him achieve that vision, Posner is using a brand new product from Rosco, the X-Effects Projector. “It's wonderful,” he says. “It has a combination of glass patterns inside and a place for other filters as well, and it's a great source of creating water ripple effects. Sometimes, the ripple is horizontal, and other times, it radiates out of the center like a fountain, and I roll it into the entire light plot for the overall treatment. It's an incredibly romantic place,” he says of the musical's setting, “so the color leaned to the more romantic side of the palette.” He also derived his palette from that of his co-designers, David Rockwell, who did the sets, and Gregg Barnes, who created the costumes. “The world [on stage] is basically beautiful sunlight into beautiful moonlight, so all the colors are heightened from that point of view.”

According to Posner, Scoundrels harks back to a different era of musicals, and he tailored his design accordingly. “In the simplest terms, it's sort of an old-fashioned musical, and I relied on old-fashioned craft but gave it a 21st century feel,” he says. “It's very much a wing and drop show,” but he adds the biggest challenge came from dual turntables that revolve in tandem at some points, but they spin in opposite directions at other points, providing an ideal method for actors to enter and exit the stage, as well as move from one scene to the next. The turntables also kept Posner and his moving light programmer, Timothy Rogers, on their toes. “We have constantly changing images, and it did take a long time to follow people around with the moving lights as they traveled in a circle, with the light moving along with them. All the light cues trigger at the same time the automation cues, so once you program all the steps and adjust the timings accordingly, it runs pretty smoothly, but there was some painstaking programming.” To wit, Posner's rig contains almost 400 conventional lights consisting of ETC Source Fours® in various wattages and angles and programmed on an ETC Obsession® 2 console.

Rogers programmed the moving lights on a Flying Pig Wholehog® 2 console. “It was challenging but doable,” he says of getting the dual turntables matched just right to their appropriate illumination. “It just took a lot of fine tuning through the process. Sometimes, you hit it the first time, and it's dead on, and other times, you need a couple of passes, but we got it pretty quickly.” Philip Rosenberg served as associate LD.

For a quick-witted and fast paced show like Scoundrels, timing for the lighting is as important as it is for the actors. “In comedy, the jokes come by so quickly that it's crucial — more so than in drama — to point out people's faces and be specific about focus because of the speed that the humor goes by,” Posner explains. “Your light levels have to be high for the comedy to pay off so you can see the actors' eyes and faces. The experience has to be the same for the people in the last row as it is for the people in the front row.”

Luckily, Posner has a knack for keeping the actors in the most flattering light. “One of Ken's good qualities is that he is great at making actors look good on stage. Half the role was lighting people, but a lot of it was lighting scenery and the floor, because the floor was very light, so if you didn't put anything on it, it would be very distracting if there was a pool of light,” Rogers says. “The show's opening is beautiful and almost cinematic. The actors move through the light nicely, and Ken has a gift for pulling them out and making them look fantastic.”

The deck of the stage is light blue, as are the portals that lead onto the stage. “It was very difficult to light because you can't just turn one light on and be isolated,” Rogers says. “I spent a lot of time carving out the floor and making it look like a different location. You couldn't really just light one area; if you did, then everything else would feel dead, so we spent a lot of time lighting up areas and highlighting where [the action was] onstage during the scene.”

As romance, intrigue, and double dealing are such a big part of the show, it is essential that nothing detract from the on stage shenanigans. To that end, Posner was determined to have as quiet a rig as possible, so he used 15 VARI*LITE VL3000Q Spot fixtures, which are revamped versions of the VL3000s but with a “silencer.” “It's all about controlling heat,” Posner states. “If you reduce the number of fans, the fixture gets hotter, and they over-temp. The idea for these fixtures came about after I saw the VL3000s and wanted to use them, but they were too loud. So Vari-Lite did some modifications and came up with the Q version for Wicked, which had 15 [of the fixtures] right off the line.” Posner says that a lot of LDs in theatre and television liked the VL3000s, but they made too much noise and Vari-Lite heard that complaint so often that the VL3000Q was borne. “I told [Vari-Lite] that ‘brighter and quieter’ is the name of the game, and that needs to be your battle cry,” he adds.

Scoundrels is also the first Broadway show to use Vari-Lite's VL3500 Spot fixture and Posner has been impressed by the fixture's capabilities. “The shuttering is beautiful,” he says. “It's very reliable, and the combination of the two gobo wheels and the shuttering lends the light tremendous flexibility.” Posner is using the new fixture to specifically carve out and shape different scenic elements in the show, and he discovered that the light's flexibility allows him to hang fewer fixtures. “The VL3500s can do the work of many fixtures because they can constantly change shuttering and recompose as the stage pictures recompose,” he explains. “It will be a tremendous asset in touring productions where you truly can't troupe a Broadway-sized conventional rig around the country.”

The Scoundrels rig contains two of the VL3500s that were added after the San Diego tryout at the La Jolla Playhouse last October. In the move from the West Coast to the East Coast, there were a few tweaks done here and there, especially the front of house rig. There are four VL1000s on the balcony rail to light the portals and frontlight the jewels. Jewels play an important role in a show about con artists, so it was vital that they sparkle on stage. Also added to the rig were 19 VL2000 Wash lights, six VL2000 Spots, four VL1000 Arcs, and two City Theatrical AutoYokes®.

“I'm a big fan of the VL2000 Wash light, because they really added color, and I used them more to paint the floor and lighting the set,” Rogers says. “I would pull people and groups of people out with the wash lights. So I would say the wash lights were definitely the workhorse for lighting people, areas, and locations. The spots dealt with the set and floor and making the locations appear different from one another.”

Posner's romantic lighting assures that the title scoundrels don't appear dirty or rotten, but the dirty deeds on stage are presented in a striking and lovely light. Still, keep your hand on your wallet as you leave the theatre!

50 ETC Source Fours® 36°
80 ETC Source Fours 26°
140 ETC Source Fours 19°
40 ETC Source Four PARs NSP
22 ETC Source Four PARs MFL
30 ETC Source Four PARs WFL
8 ETC Source Four PARnels
[All ETC Source Fours are 575W]
8 James Thomas Engineering Short Nosed Birdies EYC(FLD) 75W 12V
10 L&E MINI-10s 300W Frosted (for on-stage worklights)
20 L&E Mini-Strips (New Style) 6'-3"/30 Light/3 Circuit Q75/12V MR16 EYF (NSP)
20 L&E Mini-Strips (New Style) 6'-3"/30 Light/3 Circuit Q75/12V MR16 EYC (FLD)
10 ETC Source Four MultiPAR 8'-0"/12 Light/3 Circuit 575W, NSP Lense
16 VARI*LITE VL2000 Wash luminaires, 700W
11 CTI flocked Tophats for VL2000 Wash
13 VARI*LITE VL2000 Spot luminaires, 700W
8 CTI Wide Angle flocked Tophats for VL2000 Spot
16 VARI*LITE VL3000Q Spot luminaires, 1200W supply with associated sound baffle
2 VARI*LITE VL3500 Spots
29 Wybron 7.5" Coloram II DMX-512, 24-Channel Color Scrollers
64 Wybron 4" Coloram II DMX-512, 24-Channel Color Scrollers
2 Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 2s
1 ETC Obsession®
59 6×2.4 ETC DimmerRacks
3 Lycian 1293 3K followspots