Seen & Heard

Seen at Lincoln Center: When I wish upon a star, I want it to be one of lighting designer Ted Mather's internally lit holiday stars that are currently hanging in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in NYC. A dozen twinkling stars that measure 12' wide by 14' high are internally lit with Color Kinetics ColorBlast fixtures, allowing each point on the star to be lit separately. The stars change color in time to two- minute pieces of music, heard every 15 minutes on the quarter hour from 4:00pm to 10:00pm daily. The stars also have fiber optics and strobes for extra sparkle. Mather programmed about 2600 cues on a "grandMA Light" console. He suggests that the best view of the stars is from the second floor balcony (outside Borders) after 5:00pm. More about the stars in the January issue of Live Design.---Ellen Lampert-Gréaux

Seen on Broadway: Alice Walker’s lyrical but tough-minded novel The Color Purple, 1982’s Pulitzer Prize winner, was Spielberged and sentimentalized for the 1985 movie. Now another generation removed from its source, the material has been musicalized and Oprah-ed out into a full-fledged empowerment fantasy, which teeters on the brink of camp (and falls over the edge once or twice). “It should be against the law not to see The Color Purple,” thundered Rex Reed of the film. Taking a page from Reed, I’d like to introduce a law, or some sort of civic ordinance, discouraging adaptations as slick, pandering, and treacle-dripping as this one, now at the Broadway. Inflated though it has been to a $10 million super-production, presented by Winfrey (an Oscar nominee for the movie), this is the musical at its most basic, which is not at all a bad thing when the stars align but that hasn’t happened here, even if a shooting star does pop by on a scrim in one scene. The book, contributed as it happens by another Pulitzer winner from 1982 (‘night, Mother’s Marsha Norman), reduces a block of text to a litany of abuses (incest, rape, virtual slavery, etc.) endured by the ever-suffering Celie (played by the gifted LaChanze, who has to belt earnestly as the rest of the cast, as villains and strivers-for-equality, hams it up all around her). This is followed, usually inexplicably, by a relentlessly upbeat R&B-inflected number, then another downer book scene, then another stratospheric song (with a Greek chorus of three church-going biddies tossed in for cheaply reliable laughs). Repeat formula 12 more times, for an overly generous two hours and 45 minutes.

The show (directed by Broadway first-timer Gary Griffin, with new-to-Broadway tunesmiths cranking up the volume) has been given a garish, everything-16-producers-can-buy gloss that puts its designers on display, rather than showcase their best craft. Leaving aside the straight naturalism that is his forte, the possibly overworked John Lee Beatty has contributed some pleasing elements to this woodcut-like fantasia of Georgia circa 1909-1949, notably a house set that is reconstructed into a juke joint in Act I. Many of the setpieces are, however, in constant, queasily superfluous motion. When Celie and her sister Nettie are forcibly separated, the catalyst appears to be the scenery that is swinging close by, all but knocking them off their feet, rather than the treacherous Mister. [Hudson Scenic got it all up and running.] A master of white light, LD Brian MacDevitt gets his freak on and goes wild; it’s not the just the color purple that’s up there (really, it should have been used much more sparingly, as a symbol, not that we’re talking The Light in the Piazza here) but every other color in the spectrum, occasionally effectively (as a somber backing for the plaintive “Mister’s Song,” his chance to lament and repent, for instance) but more often as visual cotton candy [PRG supplied the lights and audio equipment].

Bored as I was by most of the by-the-numbers production, I was, however, grateful for “African Homeland,” which opens the second act and is one of those can-you-believe-you’re-seeing-this? numbers that makes bad theatergoing worthwhile. As Celie listens from stage right, Nettie (given a silly, faraway-from-you narration effect by sound designer Jon Weston) relates her adventures in Africa, as the stage suddenly fills with tribespeople apparently bused in from The Lion King (they stick around long enough to gird for war, then disappear as Celie, swept up in the chaos, finishes her letter). Paul Tazewell’s costumes are consistently pleasing elsewhere (as are Angelina Avallone’s graceful aging makeup and Charles G. LaPointe’s hair design) but his nipple-hugging body stockings for the dancers made me itch, and all of it had people who were enjoying the show giggling uncontrollably. [The heavenly light backdrops that turn up at the end, as if summoned from an MGM movie from the period covered by the show, were another questionable touch.] I imagine some audiences will swallow this saccharine experience whole, but I suggest contacting the nearest Oprah’s book club for a more rewarding time with the source.--Robert Cashill

Seen in Brooklyn: Data surveillance and identify theft are among the subjects approached in Super Vision, a new multi-media work created by the Builder’s Association and dbox. Artistic director of Builder’s Association, Marianne Weems, collaborated with James Gibbs of dbox (a multidisciplinary collective encompassing photography, design and creative direction) to investigate the issue of data: what happens when you give someone your essential information in an era when data flies around the world at high-speeds, often to places you never dreamed of. Super Vision employs equally sophisticated technology on stage, where a row of computers is visible in front of a letter-box shaped screen. Actors interact with magnified images of themselves and other actors, as well as projected characters, as video and live action are seamlessly interwoven in three distinct stories: a man who is loading debt onto his young son’s financial future, a woman in New York who is seeking family data from her aging grandmother in Sri Lanka, and a Uganda citizen of Indian descent who finds all of his personal data, including his cholesterol count, in the computers at immigration as he repeated visits the USA. Multiple screens and scrims add to the visual impact f the piece. Set and costume design are by Stewart Liang, lighting design by Jennifer Tipton and Allen Hahn, video design by Peter Flaherty, and sound design and original music by Dan Dobson: their collaboration seems seamless as well, with all of the individual elements adding up to a very slick, well-produced production, where the technology enhances the storytelling in an intriguing way. Following its run at BAM, Super Vision will continue to tour throughout the US and abroad, as it emphasizes the global nature–and possible dangers–of data transmission.––ELG

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