It was the best of times. Jill Santoriello, who set to work on a musical version of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities when she was 15 years old, saw her dream realized more than two decades later, as neophyte producers and a novice director ran a gauntlet of backers' auditions and showbiz obstacles to open the $16 million production at the Al Hirschfeld in September.

But it might have been the worst of times. Dickens' historical novel, published in 1859, teems with incident as it shuttles from London to Paris, and Santoriello's adaptation has almost four dozen scene changes, four times more than the average musical. The newcomers, however, had the sense to leave the design particulars to esteemed members of the ancien régime, scenic designer Tony Walton and lighting designer Richard Pilbrow. The two have worked together numerous times over the last half-century. Another pair of close collaborators, Carl Casella and Domonic Sack, were entrusted with the sound design, as David Zinn (Xanadu) attended to the 18th-century period costumes for the dissolute lawyer Sydney Carton (played forcefully by James Barbour), the French nobleman Charles Darnay, his lookalike (Aaron Lazar), the virtuous Lucie Manette (Brandi Burkhardt), whom they both adore, and the many other characters caught up in the passion and the terror of the French Revolution.

On Broadway, Walton and Pilbrow most recently teamed on the 2002-2003 season revival of Our Town. Walton was in no hurry to leave Grover's Corners for another Broadway musical. “Our lovely producers called and said they had this show, which at that time was projected for the Hilton Theatre, but I said no, I wasn't interested,” Walton says. He adds he felt at the time, “Broadway musicals just weren't fun anymore. Today's production teams just want to put on shows that will make money, unlike the demented old-style producers who produced something because they wanted to. But I was promised an adventure.”

Walton credits director and choreographer Warren Carlyle and associate choreographer Parker Esse with keeping him venturesome as the show, with 30 producers and 185 backers, clambered to life over several years. When another LD bowed out, Walton sought his old friend, Pilbrow, “who is always on the cusp of what's happening, much more so than any of his young allies. The difficulty is luring him into it, so I always try to come up with something that's impossible to light. He moans quite a bit, but he really relishes the challenge.”

“The producers, director, and writer had never done a show before, so there was a spirit of exploration about the whole thing that was quite stimulating,” Pilbrow says, adding, with a laugh, “plus, Tony is the only designer who remembers that I'm still alive. As for the challenge he set for me, I was basically supposed to light people in moving birdcages.”

The “birdcages” are the six scaffold structures in an oval configuration that Walton designed to house the show. They are smaller than they might have been on the gargantuan Hilton stage — the tallest is 25' high — but are no less difficult to illuminate, and the absence of masking or borders is a considerable audio issue besides. They are in no way meant to evoke that other Gallic-flavored musical, Les Misérables, as some critics suggested. “We looked at that show very hard so we could get away from it,” says Walton. “It must be the imagery of people with weapons and their arms raised. The key design element was a revolve, and there was no conceivable way we would do that.”

The many scene changes were way beyond any conventional scenic approach, according to Walton. “Only two of the scenes repeat,” he says. “What I came up with couldn't just do double-duty; it had to do triple-, quadruple-, octuple-duty. It had to serve as many parts of England and France, and it couldn't be too specific. It was crucial that the design have levels, as some of the scenes do take place upstairs or on upper levels. And it needed an Impressionist, romantic glow. The story takes place halfway between Dickens' era and Shakespeare's, so researching the periods and experimenting with jelly molds, I came up with a shape that was like the Globe Theatre of Shakespeare's time and the Bastille, which I discovered had very similar skeletons.”

Walton's chief imperative was that the skeletal structure “could disassemble and reassemble at a moment's notice, to be whatever country it needed to be, whether by turning it or even having it stand still, with the other country appearing behind it. For each piece to be maximally useful, it had to be minimally detailed.” A scene that takes place on a boat in Dover, and another at the chateaux of the Marquis St. Evremonde, happen outside the cities and are the only two sequences that stand outside the structures, which are moved into place by the ensemble. When completely put together, these form the foreboding Bastille. Minimal automation is used to bring in conventional palettes and the final staircase, which curves onstage as Carton ascends to meet his final, fiber-optic draped fate.

A Tale of Two Cities is very much a tale of two theatres — the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, FL, where the show was tried out last October, and the Hirschfeld. Outside of that last staircase, the guillotine, and the printed drops that help define the cities, the show was built entirely in Florida. “This was a tremendous challenge for Asolo to take on,” says Walton. “They aren't experienced in building anything like these structures, which, for reasons of safety, are metallic, not wood, except for their flooring. But production manager Victor Meyrich and his team at Asolo did an incredible job.”

The “as usual enormously enjoyable collaboration” between Walton and Pilbrow commenced as the cities took shape. “Richard lived with my wife and me here in New York for the production period, so we were on it ‘round the clock, from first thing at breakfast to last thing over Scotch at night,” Walton says. Transitioning between environments via the scenic backdrops — a backlit blue cloth for London, and a frontlit red scrim for Paris — was a constant topic. Projection was deemed inappropriate “for something so grittily placed in its era,” Walton says.

“Many things surreptitiously overlap,” Walton adds. “The foregrounds of both cities are the arches of bridges and the two rivers, the Thames and the Seine, and the boats. While the Parisian rivers and bridges and boats are painted on the warm-colored scrim and are permanently there throughout the show, the London translucency is actually a printed translucency on plastic that is hanging back to front; we painted it the right way around, then printed it back to front, so that immediately behind the Paris scrim, there is a white drop that is the back of the London drop. Putting a light on behind that drop brings a portion of London to life, and interfaces with Paris, and then overwhelms it. Richard added specific lighting specials to illuminate the river and windows of the London drop, so they would be more three-dimensional. He was able to minimize bounce light so that Paris could disappear completely.”

“We bring in different drops behind the Paris scrim,” Walton continues. “One is just a sky, with a bit of lower-class Parisian housing, to enable us to do shadow effects. When the horses [a Walton design executed by Costume Armour] and carriage drive over the little boy, spurring the Revolution, there are huge shadows of the horses rearing. That's actually a large black velour cutout on net of rearing horses that Richard has a lot of different lights pointed at from different positions flashing very fast, to give the illusion of violent movement.”

“The quickest transitions go from LED frontlights on the scrim to backlight on the blue London cloth,” Pilbrow adds. “In Act II, there's a red Bastille cloth, a red silhouette with window gashes in it. The rear-lit cloths are a formidable challenge. They're photographically reproduced on plastic, very dense, and needed an awful amount of light for them to show up, which I underestimated in Florida. There's a lot of soft light, mainly Zip Strips, placed in 3' vectors as a wall of light behind. And there are a lot of specials doing different positions, including the windows and rivers, and five different ones for the two moons we have in the show.”

The scaffolds themselves are studded with birdies. “This was obviously far from realistic,” Walton says. “I thought that all the lights should be visible. We shouldn't try to cover up that we were taking a fairly outrageous contemporary scenic approach. We were always going to have to live with little lights in the towers, and they would have looked doubly peculiar if we were trying to hide them.”

“The little birdies inside all the structures were all battery-controlled, which was a bit of a nightmare,” Pilbrow says. “There are 86 channels of City Theatrical SHoW DMX radio receivers and transmitters. The floors of those units are packed with batteries. They look quite simple, but they're technologically complex. The batteries had to be put inside the platforms so as to avoid trailing cables. Then we had to light actors from outside the units from multiple directions. I used multiple Vari-Lite VL1000s in the front-of-house in multiple positions and VL3500s on stage, with lots and lots of preset focuses, so that, whenever a unit stopped in a position, a whole different set of instruments were able to be used.”

Walton adds that “the overhead lights become the masking for everything that's in the grid, like the ship and the balloon in the show; they hang below them, blinding you from seeing them. No one thought that would work, but the audience sees what they see when we need them to see it.”

Pilbrow says that a theme of his career is “how to light moving light shows without wasting time,” and he notes that the show offered an excellent opportunity to continue on this mission. It's the first on Broadway to integrate Strand Lighting's Light Palette VL (with Universal Attribute Control developed by Robert Bell) with Cast Lighting's Wysiwyg and West Side Systems' Virtual Magic Sheet (developed by Eric Cornwell). VMS shows every lighting channel, its color, direction, and intensity in realtime. “VMS is an electronic magic sheet for your computer that is wirelessly connected to the control system,” Pilbrow says. “You can create a graphic representation of every light and color and moving light direction, so that you are constantly and immediately aware of what every light is doing at every moment. I believe it allowed me to light perhaps 25% faster. After helping develop this software for four years, I couldn't really do a show without it. We had over 1,000 control channels and 350 cues and little more than 4½ hours of pure lighting time. We were able to light the whole show while the actors were rehearsing, which is always faster, and finally better.”

The production marks another Broadway debut: The Midas XL8 console, the company's flagship 128-input digital desk. “There are 104 inputs on the show,” Casella says. “The Midas really represents the best in audio. I don't think anyone would argue that point.”

Also inarguable was the difficulty posed by the set, says Sack (who first heard about the show in 2003, while waiting to go on in Les Troyens at the Metropolitan Opera. The designer is a lyric tenor, which he says helps in mounting stage musicals). “The speaker placement was very difficult,” he says.

Walton obliged by incorporating speakers in the set design and says, “Along the forestage fascia, there are a lot of little ribbon speakers made by LDS [LjudDesign Scandinavia] that look like knobbly black rectangles, so we made a lot of non-functioning knobbly black rectangles that form one line and look like a piece of structure. The two proscenium towers are bigger and chunkier than the rest of the pieces on the set and have speaker faces covered with scrim that have been painted over in a rusted gold like the rest of the towers.”

“The set design uses the entire proscenium, which is the normal placement for speakers, and it's designed with no masking,” Casella says. “Most shows have a center cluster, and its purpose is to reach all the way down to the second or third row of the orchestra. It can't do that if it's up on the theatre's ceiling, so normally, you're masked at least 10' or 12' down from the opening of the proscenium. That's how it was originally, but then they decided to do away with it, which meant the speaker had to be 15' higher to the bottom of it than we wanted. We had a center speaker that was a good 35' above the orchestra and side speakers that couldn't go where they were designed to go because they added power. The back of the house and the balcony were not a problem, as we had placement, but the front 12 to 14 rows of the orchestra were quite a challenge.”

Asked to describe a specific musical concern, Casella details “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” an Act I song for the vengeful Madame Defarge, “that is basically a rock ballad that takes place in the 18th century,” he says. “It needed to have power and impact but not sound like a rock song. It was a difficult number to mix aurally, as it's orchestrated with a tremendous amount of drums, but we would get notes saying that it needed to sound sweeter with the violins — this for a song that's like ‘Wipe Out’ for the 1700s. And Natalie Toro, who sings it, has great range, starting about an octave lower than her voice goes, but the band isn't incredibly soft. We have 14 stage monitors on the show, and there is full onstage monitoring for the singers to hear themselves, which was quite the challenge considering that they were all miked with lavalier mics on their foreheads. We spent a lot of time with EQ and balance.”

Adds Sack, “The onstage sound affects everyone in the audience, because it has to go somewhere. On a normal show, you would have masking and drapes and borders to soak up some of this sound. We had nothing, which initially meant echoes, which bounced off the rigging and came back into the house about a half-second later. The placement and angling of the stage speakers was critical to minimize reflection. They were geared to hit certain areas and die away. The overall design of the show — its openness — was the challenge; that, and that the music doesn't stick to any one kind of orchestration.”

Sack says he and Casella were honored to work with Walton and Pilbrow, “two giants,” but Walton says the pleasure was all his. “There was a gallant feeling to this all,” he says. “I loved the material, and our brand-new team, which brought with it tremendous risks. But they were all so lively and appealing, which made the show so alluring to work on.”

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

CREDITS LIST

DESIGN TEAM

Scenic Designer: Tony Walton

Lighting Designer: Richard Pilbrow

Sound Designers: Domonic Sack and Carl Casella

Costume Designer: David Zinn

Special Effects Designer: Greg Meeh

Hair Designer: Tom Watson

VENDORS

Original scenic construction: Asolo Repertory Company (Victor Meyrich, production manager; David Ferguson, technical director; Bert Taylor, metal fabricator; JoAnn Waters-Atkins, master scenic artist; Cathryn Dashiell and Jeffrey W. Dean, property masters; Rick Alley, prop builder, with assistance from Studio South‘s Arnold Abramson)

Additional scenic construction and automation: Showmotion Inc., Rose Brand, I-Weiss

Horse construction: Costume Armour, Inc. (Nino Novellino)

Translucent backdrops construction: Triumph Productions

Trees and horse silhouette: Michael Hagen, Inc.

Lighting Equipment: PRG Lighting

Sound Equipment: Sound Associates

Production Stage Manager: Kim Vernace

Production Supervisor: Christopher C. Smith

Production Carpenter: Erik Hansen

SCENIC STAFF

Associate Set Designer: Heather Wolensky

Props Coordinator: David Utz Towlun

Set Model Builder: Joanie Schlafer

Set Model Making Assistant: Alexis Distler

Fly Automation: James W. Sturek

General Assistant: Rebecca Lustig

Scenic Apprentices: Justine Remy, Juliet Fox, Georgia Warner, Tommy McArdle

Special Thanks: Kelly Hanson, Olga Rogova, and Anais Godard

LIGHTING STAFF

Associate Lighting Designer: Michael Gottlieb

Lighting Programmer: Robert Bell

Assistant Lighting Designers: Kathleen Dobbins, Graham Kindred, Jay Scott

Production Electrician: Michael Ward

Assistant Electrician/Head Followspot: Paul Ker

Board Operator: Robert Hale

House Electrician: Michele Gutierrez

Spotlight Operators: Tom Burke, Robert Miller, John Blixt

SOUND STAFF

Associate Sound Designer: Wallace Flores

Sound Operator: Ty Lackie

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

EQUIPMENT LIST

LIGHTING EQUIPMENT

Strand Lighting Light Palette VL Console

West Side Systems Virtual Magic Sheet

Cast Lighting Wysiwyg

City Theatrical SHoW DMX System

38 Vari-Lite VL3500Q Spot

2 Vari-Lite VL2500 Spot

18 Vari-Lite VL1000TS

4 Vari-Lite VL5B

12 DHA 6-Lamp Digital Light Curtain 240W 12V VNSP

24 DHA 6-Lamp Pitching Digital Light Curtain 240W 12V VNSP

2 ETC Source Four 5° Ellipsoidal

24 ETC Source Four 10° Ellipsoidal

49 ETC Source Four 19° Ellipsoidal

223 ETC Source Four 26° Ellipsoidal

38 ETC Source Four 36° Ellipsoidal

4 ETC Source Four 50° Ellipsoidal

15 ETC Source Four 70° Ellipsoidal

10 ETC Source Four Zoom 15-30° Ellipsoidal

12 ETC Source Four PAR VNSP

8 ETC Source Four PAR MFL

16 ETC Source Four PAR MFL

2 PAR64 MFL

100 Birdie EXN 12V 50W (Painted)

56 Birdie EXN/Transformer 50W (Painted)

10 GAM Stik-up Light 200W

6 Mini-10

6 Arri Junior 5kW Fresnel w/no Lens/Reflector

1 DeSisti Renoir 5kW Black Reflector

5 7'-0" 3 Circuit T3 Strip

28 8' 4 Circuit Ministrip EYC

26 Wybron 7.5" Coloram II Scrollers

4 Wybron 10" Eclipse DMX Dowsers

12 Philips Solid-State Solutions ColorBlaze 72

4 Philips Solid-State Solutions ColorBlaze 48

82 Philips Solid-State Solutions ColorBlast 12

78 LEDtronics L640-OER-12N

6 LEDTronics L609-UV750-014W

2 Lycian 1290XLT 2kW Followspot

2 Lycian 1272 1200W Followspot

EFFECTS

10 Diversitronics PAR64 SCM-64Q-DMX Strobe

6 Martin Professional Atomic 3000 Strobe

4 Wildfire LT-404F Blacklight

2 City Theatrical EFX Plus2

10 GAM Spin/FX

6 Rosco Double Gobo Rotator Variable Speed

3 Rosco DC/DMX Controller

9 DHA Wheel

10 TPR DMX-64 MH Illuminator

1 EnduraLight100 LED FO Illuminator

1 4' Blacklight

4 Look Solutions Cryo-Fog

5 Look Solutions Viper II Smoke

5 Look Solutions Power Tiny Fogger (battery)

4 Look Solutions Unique Hazer

2 Le Maitre Silent Storm Snow Machine

2 Reel Efx Fan II

2 Jem Fan for Snow

4 Jem Fan for Smoke

4 Bowens Fan for Haze

3 In Line Fans for Smoke

10 Clip Fans (orchestra pit)

PRACTICALS

16 Practical Flicker Candle 9V

6 Practical Flicker Candle 9V/RC4 Wireless

1 Music Stand Light

SOUND EQUIPMENT

CONSOLE FOH

1 Midas XL-8 Console Digital - Surface

4 Midas DL-431 Mic Splitter

6 Midas DL-451 I/O BOX

2 Midas DL-461 Signal Router

10 Midas DL-471 DSP

1 Midas DN-9331 Graphic Controller

2 Midas Fiber Reels Neutrik or Midas

1 SA Script Trolley

1 SA Suitable Spares

1 Midas 9696 Recorder/Playback

CONSOLE FOH SUBMIX AND MONITOR CONSOLES

1 Yamaha DM2000 Digital Console

8 Yamaha MY8 AD96 Input Card

6 Yamaha MY8 DA 96 Output Card

2 Yamaha MY16AE-CA Input / Output Card 16 Channel

8 Yamaha Input Cables DB25 To Female XLR X 8

6 Yamaha Output Cables DB25 To Male XLR X 8

2 Aviom Direct to Aviom Card Output Cards

6 Behringer 8CH A to D Converters

COMPUTERS

4 15“ LCD Monitors

2 Toshiba Satellite 5005-S507

PROCESSING

1 Meyer Galileo All AES

2 Meyer Galileo Standard

4 XTA DP-226 DSP

2 TC M3000 Reverbs

1 Lexicon 960 reverb w/ Larc Complete System

PLAYBACK

1 Denon CD Player

2 Cue Manager - Sound Effect Playback

Custom Sound Associates Computers and Back-Up Systems

MICROPHONES

8 Schoeps CMC6

1 Sennheiser MKH-800

3 Sennheiser 421

6 Neumann KM-184

2 Neumann U87

2 Neumann TLM-170

10 AKG C414

2 AKG 391

4 Shure Beta SM57

1 Shure Beta 52

1 Shure SM-91

6 Shure 565 SD

2 Shure Beta SM58

1 Shure Beta 87

12 Klark DI - Boxes Direct

2 Whirlwind DI - Boxes Passive

MIC STANDS

8 Atlas TS-8 Microphone Stands

8 Atlas DS-7 Microphone Stands

24 Atlas MS-10C Microphone Stands

12 Atlas PX13 Booms

8 Beyer 18" Booms

6 Beyer Tripod Stand

12 Beyer Side Clamps

12 Atlas Male Flanges

6 Atlas Female Flanges

8 Atlas 6" Nipples

8 Atlas Right Angle Tubes

6 Beyer Stereo Bars

WIRELESS

70 DPA 4061 mic elements Wireless Elements

12 Sennheiser MKE-2 Beige Wireless Elements

6 Sennheiser MKE-1 Beige Wireless Elements

32 Sennheiser Sk5212 Transmitters

16 Sennheiser EM3537 Dual Receivers

2 Trantec Channels wireless mics 8 Channels Each

16 Trantec Transmitters

1 Sennheiser Net 1 Wireless Computer Interface

1 SA Custom Antenna System

2 SA Sennheiser Active Paddle Antennas

2 Cable 50' RG213 w/BNC Low Loss

2 Cable 25' RG 213 w/ BNC Low Loss

2 Sennheiser SKP500G2 Plug On-Transmitter

WIRELESS MONITORING

1 Sound Associates Monitor Main Wireless Monitoring Touch Panels

2 Sound Associates Remotes Wireless Monitoring Touch Panels

IN-EAR MONITORS

4 Sennheiser EK 300 IEM Receivers

4 Sennheiser SR 300 IEM Transmitter

2 Sennheiser G2 IEM Antenna

1 Sennheiser G2 IEM Antenna Combiner

WIRELESS INTERCOM

2 Telex BTR-800 System 8 up System

1 HME digital system-2.4gHz 8 up System/4 Talk 4 Extra Listen

SPEAKERS

3 Meyer M'elodie Bumpers

18 Meyer M'elodie Line Array Speakers

8 Meyer M2D Line Array Speakers

4 Meyer UPJ-1P

8 Meyer UPA-1P

6 Meyer UPA-2P Stage Monitors

8 Meyer M1-D FF

2 Meyer CQ-1

2 Meyer UPM-1P Fills

12 D&B E3 UB/Deck

16 D&B E0 UB/Surround

10 EAW JF-80 Surrounds

4 Meyer 650-P Subs-Floor

6 Galaxy Hotspots

6 Anchor AN 1000 Powered Speakers

LjudDesign Scandinavia speakers

AMPLIFIERS

6 D&B D6 Amplifiers Dual Channel

4 Crown MA1200 Amplifiers

DRESSING ROOM

2 TOA A906 Mixer Amplifiers

2 TOA Line input Card

2 TOA Mic input Cards

24 SA/Bogen 70V Speakers w/ Volume Controls

HEADPHONES

12 Sony 7506

COMMUNICATIONS

2 Clear-Com MS440

10 Clear-Com RM 440 Remotes

6 Clear-Com RM 120A

12 Clear-Com RS-502 Dual Belt Pack

20 Clear-Com RS-501 Belt Pack

2 SA Com Patching Rack

12 Clear-Com CC-26 Headset

12 Beyer DT 108 Headsets

12 Sennheiser HD410-4

POWER DISTRIBUTION

1 SAI PD 600 Power Distribution System 600A

20 SAI PD-1 Rack Mounted PD Units

6 SAI PD-2 Rack Mounted Dual Input PD Units

1 Feeder Cable Necessary Feeder Cable

Power Con Style Cables and Boxes

AVIOM MONITORING SYSTEM

3 Aviom Pro Hub

8 Aviom A16 Rack Monitor

4 Aviom A16ii Monitor Station

30 25" Cat 5

20 50' Cat 5

10 100' Cat 5

16 Sony Headphones

16 10' TS to TS Cable