Monday, November 8, 2010

Today I mentioned something was "one of my top 3 Broadway show moments where I freaked out so much I nearly jumped onto the stage..." and I starting thinking about the truth in that. I think it's absolutely amazing how a designer can add so much to a show and make a split second so amazing or poignant or just... visually stunning that something bursts inside of you and your mouth falls open and you are just like... wow. And it's funny, because I'm not even talking about thing where an actor is just so resplendent in a bit of a show that you want to cry, it really has nothing to do with the acting. It has everything to do with the art.

Top 3, in no particular order:

Spring Awakening's lighting transition during "Totally F*cked."

I think it's a combination of the Broadway/Interior design nerd in me that loved this during this show. That, and the fact that the part of the show right before this is so intense. [spoilers] Before this, Moritz commits suicide right after a very poignant, very dark, monologue, which happens to be one of my favorites. This scene also turned Jon Gallagher Jr. into one of my favorites. Moritz's funeral is held during "Left Behind" when Malchior condemns the adults in the show for not noticing how tormented the boy was before he killed himself. During "Totally F*cked" Malchior is confronted by his school master about a note he wrote to Moritz that was so "fraught with sin" (read: explained things the adults didn't want the kids to know about sex) that it caused his demise. [/spoilers] This song could have been so, so depressing, but instead, the composer (& lighting staff) decided to make it the polar opposite. About three quarters of the way through the song, the entire cast sings the Chorus and the lights explode into color and movement right along with the cast. At this point in the show, it's exactly what the audience needs. Both times I saw it live I don't remember seeing a single person not smiling. I also was enchanted with the fact that the set and lighting designers used almost all fluorescent and LED lights here. Beautiful and energy efficient. Thank you Broadway.

Here's a video of the scene I was talking about. If you're strapped for time, start at 3 mins... I really recommend watching the whole thing if you can so that you can see some of the contrast with the lighting and choreography, it's also a pretty good quality video.

American Idiot's set transition during "Holiday" (in truth it's really close tie to a light & set transition in "Boulevard of Broken Dreams, but I'll just show you one for this show)

Pretty much the entirety of "American Idiot" was mind-blowingly stunning in regards to what the creative team did to work with the set and lighting... A quirky mix of a professional rock concert, warehouse, and a Broadway stage. The first time I saw the show, I didn't really know what to expect. I was more or less amazed at the fact that the cast had hardly stopped moving and singing at this point, and totally not ready for the change that I loved. "Holiday" talked about the journey the 3 main characters in the show are taking, a physical journey for two of them, and a more emotional journey for the third. Listen to the lyrics and it's not hard to get, the show doesn't give you that much back story, so neither will I. Anyway, two of our gentlemen, Johnny & Tunny, on top of a bit of scaffolding which was freestanding and probably about twelve feet tall. Tunny climbs off and Johnny remains on top of it. The cast then swings the scaffold around and tips it onto its side while Johnny is still standing on the top singing, and it turns into a bus, complete with headlights and wheels. Part of the reason this stuck out so much to me the first time I saw it was because I was looking away when he started tipping, it caught my attention mid-tip, and I thought that he was falling off of it for a second. That combined with the fact that I'm convinced I couldn't ever keep my balance and sing on a tipping over piece of scenery. Mainly, I was just impressed at how versatile the designers seemingly bare-bones set was. Unexpected. Unexpected indeed. I'm pretty sure I gasped and squeezed Taylor's hand really hard the first time I saw it, if you don't believe me, you can ask him.

Here's a video of the transition that I was talking about. If you're strapped for time, start at 50 seconds, but this one is great quality because it's from a TV performance, not the actual show. It was a little better on stage, but you'll still get the feel of it.

Les Miserables' lighting transition at the end of "Javert's Suicide."

I've had a love affair with Les Mis for about 7? 8 years? and when I saw this show, my first Broadway show, I was really wondering how the heck they were going to manage showing Javert jumping off a bridge into the Seine river and drowning himself on a Broadway stage. Don't complain that I just gave it away, the song is called Javert's suicide, and let's be honest, you were never going to read that 1200 page book anyway. (though you should!!) Anyway, the stage was pretty bare for the majority of this song. They had a wooden bridge that was probably about 8'-0" long at the front of the turntable. Javert walked around for a bit and then onto the bridge. As the song reached it's climax he climbed up onto the top of the railing so he was standing on it and singing. At this point, I'm thinking... okay there's going to be a blackout on the last note and we're going to leave it to our imagination (lame! not to mention awful for the actor who's belting his brains out for his last note of the show) or he's going to hop off the bridge and land on the stage three feet later and I would have to be very upset. Oh. I was not upset. So he climbs onto the railing and sings "There is no way to go ooooooooooooo-n" and jumps from the railing onto the stage. As he jumped, the bridge flies into the air and tricks your eye into thinking that he jumped way farther than he did. The second he hits the "N" the bridge is gone and the stage was plunged into an icy blue green light, reminiscent of water. The turntable begins to spin and the actor threw his body around limply, like he was being rocked in the river's undercurrent. My mind was blown. It was gorgeous and easily was my favorite tech moment in the show. (My favorite song was "Empty Chairs" Marius made me cry)

Start this guy around 4 minutes if you just want to see what I'm talking about. This version is from the West End showing and not quite as great as Broadway's in my opinion, mostly because the lighting and movement aren't as visually stimulating, but it's still worth it. The quality in this video is the shottiest of the three, but I guess people had slightly more respect at these theaters than in the ones for the newer shows.

God, I want to be able to go do that someday.


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