Broadway's West End


The hits from abroad keep coming, with a star-studded list of imports from London seen on Broadway this spring. At times it seemed as if the West End had simply relocated itself west of Broadway, where Amy's View, Closer, Marlene, Not About Nightingales, The Iceman Cometh, The Weir, and Via Dolorosa were all on the boards at once, with an A list of performers, directors, and designers in tow.

Amy's View is the first entry in a pair of plays by David Hare, who was also seen on Broadway this season in his one-man show Via Dolorosa. Directed by Richard Eyre, Amy's View also gave New York audiences their first real chance to see Dame Judi Dench perform, and perform she does in the role of Esme Allen, a middle-aged actress at a turning point in her career.

Bob Crowley's sets of an English country house, with projections by Wendall K. Harrington, were lit by Mark Henderson, who primarily used ETC Source Fours with some PARs and fresnels overhead. He also added patterns with double gobo overlays in Source Fours to dress black fabric around the proscenium. "The room interiors are very realistic, yet contemporary," says Henderson. He added two 5kW fresnels stage left to indicate light coming in from the garden.

The last scene in the show is the most striking, and takes place in a theatre within the theatre. Lit from above with striplights, two large layers of white silk upstage fall dramatically, one a beat after the other, to reveal a painted backdrop of a big theatre (the backdrop was added for the New York production, since the Barrymore Theatre is less deep than the stages at the Royal National Theatre and in the West End where the play had previously been performed). "The backdrop is not lit specifically," explains Henderson, who used small PAR-36 lamps. "Some of the instruments are actually painted on."

Henderson's color palette was selected to give the play a contemporary feel, with apricot (Rosco 317) and straw (Rosco 09) for sunlight, and scarlet (Rosco 24) added for a sunset look. A cool blue (Rosco 78) was used to simulate moonlight. David Weiner served as Henderson's assistant LD.

Henderson also lit The Iceman Cometh, a revival of Eugene O'Neill's classic play of hope and despair directed by Howard Davis, designed by Crowley, and imported from the Almeida Theatre. Performed at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and starring Kevin Spacey, all of the action for Iceman takes place in a rundown bar with tall brick walls where bedframes and chairs hang as if on the second floor.

The look is intentionally dowdy, with very little color in the show, except for a bit of straw (Rosco 09). "The open white with lack of intensity looks dirty," says Henderson. Globes hanging on pillars on the set also provide light and add a soft, mellow look. These go off as "daylight" takes over.

With approximately 40 cues in a four-and-a-half-hour production, he had time to create interesting tableaux at the end of each scene. "The lighting picks out the relationships that are going on. I brought the whole thing down, then brought up the back wall and highlighted the actors with Source Fours low from the front." The ETC fixtures replaced the birdies (small PARs) used in London.

Over the bar, a row of birdies provides extra light for the actors, while the overhead rig includes additional ETC Source Fours, with a few fresnels and PARs. An ETC Obsession 2 console was used. "The cues are small shifts of emphasis on isolated pockets of action, to help shift your attention," Henderson says. Bobby Harrell was assistant LD.

The most provocative play of the season is Closer, written and directed by Patrick Marber, and starring Natasha Richardson in a foursome of two couples that cleverly captures the sexual mood of fin-de-siecle London. Lit by Hugh Vanstone (most recently seen on Broadway with Art and The Blue Room), Closer has a single set designed by Vicki Mortimer. In London, a raised platform defined the playing area, but at the Music Box on Broadway this was done away with, leaving a large open stage where the furniture and props from each scene collect around the actors, like the emotional baggage of the complex relationships the audience is witnessing.

"The design of the back wall is intentionally obscure," says Vanstone, who used PAR cans to provide crosslight from ladders on the sides of the stage to light the back wall. Only at the end of the play does the lighting reveal that the wall's design is a juxtaposition of memorial plaques for the dead. When the audience finally sees them, Vanstone gives them an abstract look, using 75W half-silvered household bulbs strung on cables. "It almost looks as if it is a gallery exhibit," he notes.

"The basic rig is very simple," Vanstone continues. He used ETC Source Fours as an area wash from the front truss with Lee 202 and 281 color correction. "I'm very fond of this for acting area light," he says. His sidelight wash is Lee 201. Automated luminaires were also used, with six Strand Pirouettes added for tight, concentrated beams, two each from the front (on the front truss), back (on the #3 electric) and overhead (on the #1 electric). In addition, three Vari*Lite(R) VL5s(TM) were used as flexible fill light from the sides and overhead. "They are used in most scenes, but the audience never sees them move," says Vanstone, referring to the automated fixtures.

In a clever scene of online sexual banter, the dialogue is projected on a large videoscreen so the audience can read the lines. "The screen is self-lit," says Vanstone. "I only lit the people." Each of the 12 scenes in the play has its own look, with City Theatrical EFX2 projectors used to add broken water patterns in an aquarium scene where the color palette includes green-blues (Lee 131 and Rosco 73). Strand Beamlites add bright pools of downlight in an art gallery where the light is primarily white with a touch of lavender (Rosco 57) backlight. Both of these scenes also have an MDG Atmosphere haze generator to add ambiance to the aquarium and a smoke-filled feeling to the gallery.

For the scene changes, Vanstone used white neon in the floor around the bottom of the walls. "It was tricky to light the scene changes, as there are so many. I wanted to make them interesting without revealing the stage crew moving the furniture." As is his wont, "There is nothing there that doesn't need to be there. There is no place to show off in Closer, where the lighting very closely follows what the scenes require. The Blue Room [see "The best of Britain," March LD, page 62] was much more showy."

At the Cort Theatre, Mark Jonathan lit Pam Gems' Marlene, which had been seen at the Lyric Theatre in the West End, and on tour in the UK. Based on the last years in the career of "La Dietrich," Marlene was played by Sien Phillips. In the first act, the lighting was intentionally exposed with ETC Source Fours hung on light towers in a dressing room. Additional Source Fours were hung on the side front-of-house positions, with two Vari*Lite VL7(TM) automated luminaires to add beams of varying width and multiple colors. Two VL6s(TM) were hung overhead. Ian Rubin was assistant LD.

"The play is about an icon at the end of her life," says Jonathan. "The backstage scenes allow you to see into her life and see how she lived a fantasy existence, like a film star. Yet the lighting has to treat her like an icon and create an endless number of moods that go with her emotions." As an interesting aside, Jonathan explains that Joe Davis was Dietrich's real-life LD and that she insisted he use Strand's Cinemoid 36, Surprise Pink. "This brought the old yellowish stage lighting back to white. Our lighting is much whiter these days."

Act II features Dietrich in concert. "It is set in the 1960s and had to have a period feel," says Jonathan, who gave the lighting a completely different look for the concert. "It's what you don't do in the concert section that counts. No gobos, yet the followspot is very important. You don't see the other lights any more."

As Phillips changed costumes throughout the concert scene, the lighting highlighted the dresses. "She wears a fur coat, then a dress of tiny glass beads which soak up the color. It looks like different dresses as you change the light. It glints back at you or becomes that color," says Jonathan, who used soft pink and purple as well as a more garish gold. "I used modern equivalents to approximate the old Surprise Pink using a much cooler light source." In fact, he mixed pink (Lee 157) with blue (Rosco 385).

He also used MDG Atmosphere haze generators. "The haze is very important to give dimension to the light, and make it look as if she is trapped in beams of light, especially when she is talking about Germany and her objection to the Nazi regime. The light is very dramatic and austere." As Phillips sang "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" the lights faded very slowly, leaving the audience with the image of Dietrich's face floating in the light.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, Tennessee Williams' Not About Nightingales was performed at the Circle in the Square in New York. It took place on a single prison set designed by Richard Hoover, with lighting by Chris Parry. "Trevor wanted this prison to be very harsh, very controlling and dehumanized," says Parry, referring to his notes from the director. " 'Control' is a useful word for the metaphor of this show, as everyone is being controlled somehow." The lighting was used to define different areas on the set, which had the cell block at one end and the warden's office at the other. Klondike, an airless room with steam heat used to punish prisoners, was in the middle. The set was also monotone, with everything in shades of gray. A painted drop of a prison corridor gave depth to the set and was backlit with 500W Strand Coda floods in two shades of blue (Lee 201 and Lee 161).

"I devised ways of breaking up the long space," Parry notes. His color palette reflected the harshness required by Nunn, with Lee 201 and Lee 202 color correction filters used in ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs. Three Strand Pollux 5kW fresnels were used behind the cell block, along with one 2.5kW HMI fresnel used to change the quality of the light when police arrive near the end of the second act. "The HMI is still very cold, bright, and harsh, but it offers a different quality of light when the outside world breaks in."

Much of the action takes place in the cell block, which Parry gave two looks, daytime when the prison lights were on, and evening after lights-out. DHA gobos of prison bars came from the front while a DHA grille gobo (borrowed from Les Miserables) added the texture of an overhead catwalk. After lights-out, the cell block was lit from below. "The conceit is that maybe there's another layer of prison down there and the light filters up. This is the only time there is slightly warm light. It's a very dim brown-gray."

Twenty-six PAR cans placed along the top of the cell unit pushed light downward onto the prisoners. "As they take up the chant for a hunger strike these get brighter and brighter until they are at full intensity. Trevor wanted the passion and emotion to build to the point where it snaps off," Parry says. "Then there is an instant blackout at the end of Act I."

To create the overheated, oven-like feeling in Klondike, Parry added a red glow which emanated from under floor grates and a blue glow from above to create a square area on the floor. "The lighting is not very complicated, but depends on mystery," notes Parry, who used low levels to create a murky atmosphere. MR-16s under the floor highlighted the radiator pipes. The fog used in the scene added a physical presence to the space. "With the fog, you can use the physicality to define the area you want the audience to see. You can see the patterns of the light in the air as well as on the floor."

Via Dolorosa is David Hare's emotionally moving recollection of a trip to the Middle East, directed by Stephen Daldry, with sets by Ian MacNeil and lighting by Rick Fisher. Like The Weir, this production was also imported from the Royal Court (both were performed at the Duke of York's Theatre in the West End while the Royal Court's own theatre in Sloane Square was under renovation).

Set in Israeli and Arab territories, Via Dolorosa transpired on a bare stage, where the lighting changes were very dramatic. "For Israel, I wanted to make it look like it wasn't lit, like the light was just there," says Fisher, who used a mix of Source Four ellipsoidals, PAR-64s, and Altman 2kW fresnels with barndoors. His colors were very pale tints, such as straw, CTO, and CTB. "I wanted the light in the piece to be subtle," he explains.

"There is no scenic change when we go to the Arab world, so the lighting had to carry us there," he continues. And it did so, wrapping the audience in a cocoon of an Arabian night, with the ambiance so strong the smell of Middle Eastern spices could almost be detected. Fisher used LEDs and small worklights to give the idea of small encampments in the distance, and all overhead light gave way to sidelight or light from behind the proscenium arch. "I even used power strips with glow indicators to break up the darkness." Fisher's lighting for Gaza brightened as Hare moved from place to place in the Arab territories.

The only real scenic element in the piece (other than a few odd tables and chairs) was a scale model of Jerusalem. In London, this rose from beneath open floorboards in the stage, while in New York, a section of a false back wall of the theatre opened to reveal the model with its gilded Dome of the Rock mosque. "What I like about this piece is its integrity," says Fisher, who used a 4kW HMI in the grid to light Hare's journey to Jerusalem.

At one point, the only light on the stage was Hare's desk lamp. "This adds rhythm and visual relief as well as shape to the piece," says Fisher. He also used an MDG Atmosphere machine and an MDG 3000 with CO2 propellant and DMX interface. Tyler Micoleau was the assistant LD.

Winner of the British Olivier Award for Best Play last year, The Weir is a quirky slice of Irish life written by Conor McPherson, directed by Ian Rickson and imported from the Royal Court in London. Rae Smith provided the set and costume designs for a five character evening that takes place in a rural Irish town. Paule Constable's small lighting rig used just 65 instruments, mostly ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, with a few Strand fresnels, Cantata zooms, ETC Source Four PARs, and an ETC Expression 3x console.

"The set is bits of a bar in a bleak Irish landscape," explains Constable, who placed all of the lighting instruments out of sight to accentuate the emptiness of the place. "We didn't want to revert to naturalism or use tricky lighting. We wanted to keep it simple." There are 19 lighting changes, each lasting six to seven minutes. "It always looks slightly different, yet the audience should not be aware of the changes."

Her palette of Lee 206 and 223 orange color correction in New York was chosen to give the Source Fours more of a tungsten look. "We used older instruments in London that were perfect for what we wanted," she explains. Extra units were added, as the stage at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York is wider than the stage at the Ambassadors where the show was performed in London.

"In London, the play glowed in an intimate black environment, while in New York it was more like looking into a box--there was more of a barrier which made the play look bleaker," says Constable, who thinks this season's transatlantic exchange of designers is a good thing. "For a long time American designers came to London and it had an influence on our work; now we have been going to New York more. It makes it a dialogue, not just a monologue."

Four Star Lighting provided the rigs for all these shows, with the Vari*Lite automated luminaires from Vari-Lite New York. (All but Marlene, Not About Nightingales, and Via Dolorosa were still running as of presstime.) With so many British imports on Broadway, one might well wonder what was going on in London--audiences may just have to wait until next season to see.