Live Design June 2017 Digital Edition

Seen and Heard at The Metropolitan Opera: Anyone who knows the work of director Mary Zimmerman would not be the slightest bit surprised that she turned Bellini’s opera, La Sonnambula, on its ear. Her production, which premiered at The Met on Monday, March 2—and runs in rep through April 13—was met with a wild mix of cheering and booing on opening night (the stars, Nathalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez, getting much of the cheering!) But frankly, Bellini’s pastoral opera set in a rural Swiss village in the 19th century would have just a little too much yodeling if done in a straightforward manner. Instead, Zimmerman has set it in the 21st-century in a large rehearsal studio at a location very much like 890 Broadway (if the buildings outside of the large upstage windows are any indication). Dan Ostling’s set recreates the rehearsal room with a large staircase upstage right for entrances and exits, and there are doors on stage left, as well. The singers play contemporary versions of themselves in modern clothing designed by Mara Blumenfeld, pulling on rehearsal skirts, trying on shoes, and wearing other bits and pieces of period costuming as they rehearse La Sonnambula. A model of the 19th-century set they would ostensibly be performing on sits in stage—and utilitarian gray doors leading into the studio punctuate the Tyrolean scene on the show curtain. The lighting by T.J. Gerckens shifts as the time of day changes (rather rapidly as indicated by a clock running amok on the back wall), and a series of green shaded-work lights move in and out to accent different scenes. At the end of Act II, the many of the singers appear in period Swiss dress and the walls of the studio pivot away, as if the production of La Sonnumbula they have been rehearsing is now on stage. Criticism came from the fact that the production seemed to overcome the score, or as Martin Bernheimer said in the Financial Times, “sight overpowered sound.” But those of us who cut our teeth on the avant-garde found the production traditional enough, and the singing was, in fact, glorious. And as I always used to say about Robert Wilson: why are people surprised to get a Robert Wilson production if they hire Robert Wilson to direct; the same goes for Zimmerman who took a risk in turning a 19th-century chestnut into a modern crème de marrons.

On Broadway: The current revival of Guys and Dolls could have taken a few more risks. Directed by Des McAnuff, who has certainly been more daring in the past (and his successful production of Jersey Boys is still a huge hit), this production has sets designed by Robert Brill, costumes by Paul Tazwell, lighting by Howell Binkley, sound by Steve Kennedy, and video by Dustin O’Neill. The video takes the audience on a tour of New York City as the action trips around town, from Broadway to the underground sewers, with wonderful movement in the video bringing the cityscapes alive. But it’s almost as if McAnuff didn’t trust the video to do the job: there is also a ton of scenery, including a lot of doors that lead into various locales (I say cut most of the scenery and let the video do the talking). At the top of the show and the top of Act II, the large LED wall moves to reveal the 16-piece orchestra that sits on three levels behind the screen and adds pizzazz to the production, which of course has a wonderful score by Frank Loesser. Colorful 1930s-style neon signs indicating the Broadway theatres of the period frame the stage in a kinetic manner, and Binkley’s lighting defines the space between the neon and the video, so that the performers can be seen, and also creating moods such as a moonlight night in Havana. Tazwell looks to have had a great time designing the wonderful costumes, not shying away from wide-lapels, matching vests, coordinating shirts and ties in a cornucopia of colors and patterns, from purple plaids to blue polka dots, giving the men the plumage of male peacocks. For the women, the clothes have a wide range from mission shirts and tailored jackets to linen dresses for Sarah Brown to Adelaide’s sexy Hot Box costumes and fanciful hats and dresses, including a hot pink wedding dress and veil. The overall effect is a big scenery show—with not quite enough punch to make it a perfect revival. The scenery was built by Scenic Technologies and Sign-A-Rama, with lighting gear from PRG, sound by Sound Associates, costumes by Matera and Tricorne. There is one great moment in the show, the “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” number in Act II, a moment when it all seems to come together for the guys, both those on stage and those on the creative team.

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Lisa Loomer’s play, Distracted, is a tour-de-force for actress Cynthia Nixon, who plays the mother of a nine year-old boy diagnosed with ADD—and the question of whether or not, and how, to medicate him consumes her life, and much of her husband’s as well. The play is so fast-paced, the audience is almost out of breath keeping up with Nixon as the action races from one scene to another on a single, two-level set, with the locations indicated by slight shifts in furniture and an ever-changing series of projections. Mark Wendland’s set comprises the couple’s home, as well as series of doctor’s offices, a schoolroom, and a holistic clinic. Tal Yarden designed the projections and video, which often use different paintings to indicate location shifts—the art on the wall is different, we must be someplace else…which is a good solution to the multiple places that happen so fast on the stage at the Laura Pels Theatre. Jane Cox designed the lighting, Michael Krass did the contemporary costumes (including a Goth teenage girl-next-door) with original music and sound design by David van Tieghem. The set looks to be divided into six areas; three on the ground and three on the upper level, with the kitchen where Nixon makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches placed downstage center in the area where she also drops to the floor and tries to meditate but her “OMs” are drowned out by her son calling her or the phone’s incessant ringing. Scrims cover much of the front of the stage areas, with projected words and digital clocks trying to make sense out of the chaos in the lives we are watching unravel. At the end, you finally get the chance to take a deep breath as the frantic mother simply sits on stage watching her son be a typical nine year-old boy, and you get the feeling that all’s well that ends well. Scenery provided by Showman Fabricators, lighting equipment by PRG, sound gear by Sound Associates, and video gear by Scharff Weisberg.

Next Up: Hair—the Public Theatre’s revival of this seminal rock opera that has moved from the Delacorte in Central Park to the Hirschfeld Theatre—is now in previews. Keep your eyes and ears open…It looks and sounds fantastic!

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