West Side Story: A Review

An enormous thank you to my friend Ruth who took me tonight to see the new revival of West Side Story. After a string of disappointing shows on Broadway it was great to finally see a show that made me happy (mostly.)

This is an absolutely GORGEOUS production. Jim Youmans left a lot to be desired in his set for Gypsy, his other collaboration with Arthur Laurents, but this set was a pure home run. The angles the color (or lack thereof) the texture... a beautiful collection scenes. The story of this show is based in the gang wars around 66th street on New York's West Side, in the tenements that were demolished to build Lincoln Center. Youmans seems to have shifted the action uptown a bit, specifically to the area of 125th St. underneath the 1 train. He directly lifted aspects of the set from that train bridge, combined with the softly textured and barely there backdrop of the George Washington Bridge. He also manages to pull off something that is incredibly difficult for a designer: making a scene shift meaningful. The shift into the set for the rumble "under the highway" was breathtaking and ominous and perfectly weighted. The huge diagonal shaft of the underside of the bridge coming in, appearing to drift in from a fog, and the lowering of the chain-link fence curtain perefectly set the mood for what was about to transpire onstage.

The costumes left aside the standard red and blue signifiers for the two gangs and instead went with orange and purple. There were touches of sage green and tans in everything, in all a very pleasing pallette. Tony and Maria were dressed in a deep teal blue, the only real blue onstage anywhere, though Tony does don an orange jacket for the fateful rumble. Using the secondary pallette rather than primaries was inspired.

The most beautiful thing on stage was "Somewhere." The cast in bleached out barely pastel shades of their gang colors, Tony and Maria in brilliant white, the stage basically bare against a stark, brightly lit cyc, and the song sung by a child in pure clean tones. That song alone is worth the price of admission.

Some words about the cast: Cody Green as Riff was a dream. Cody was the winner of Bravo's "Step It Up And Dance" and this show proves why. He looks like a short, squat brute, but he has the amazing ability to somehow magically lengthen his legs when he kicks, and creates these shapes that are stunning. It was a sad moment to realize that Riff's death meant that I wouldn't get to see him in the second act. The other stand out for me was Ryan Steele as Baby John. He somehow carries a tension in his dance that ripples out to the tips of his fingers and toes in every movement. He even snaps his fingers (which is important in this show as anyone who has seen it knows) in a way that moves his entire hand in a miniature dance. The vocal star of the show is Karen Olivo as Anita, a voice like a ringing bell that can carries humor, or emotion, and her rage after the rape scene is visceral. By far the strongest voice onstage in any scene.

I do have one complaint: the Spanish. Laurents chose to make about 50% of the Puerto Ricans' dialogue in Spanish, and chose to do "I Feel Pretty" and "A Boy Like That" entirely in Spanish. While I understand the choice... these are immigrants after all, and they probably would speak in a mix of English and Spanish (most of the people in my neighborhood do...) but it leaves the non-Spanish speaking audience a bit cheated. If you are unfamiliar with the show (and it hasn't been on Broadway in near 30 years) a big chunk of story is missing. How does Maria convince Anita that her love for Tony outweighs his having killed Anita's fiance? I don't know. It was in Spanish. Even "I Wanna Be In America" falls a bit flat because the pro-Puerto Rico arguments are made in Spanish, so the counter points and patter and puns make no sense. Yes, intellectually I get that he is alienating the audience as the immigrants are alientaed by their surroundings, and blah blah blah... I want to hear the story in a way that I can understand it. At least toss me the bone of some supertitles.

All in all, the best show I've seen in a while. Recomended.

Subway Sketch


Get Your Shots

Are we living in the 1970's again? High unemployment, recession, rising prices, and now Swine Flu...

I love how these 70's PSAs are just shy of being horror movie trailers.


Paddle Cache

Here's how you spend a beautiful spring day: renting a couple kayaks and heading out to grab a geocache that has been in pace for nearly a month with no finders so far!

Turns out that the New Jersey Meadowlands is a lovely place to spend the morning, paddling along the Hackensack river.

It was a GORGEOUS sunny day, beautiful weather, just ever so slightly hot, but not so hot that it was stifling.

So odd to see the city from this side... see that tiny needle in the middle of this photo, just between the two power lines? That's the Empire State Building. Cool, huh?




Is it living in New York City that is driving me to fits of irrational anger, or am I just generally really grumpy lately? You know those guys who stand on popular street corners and try to talk to you about Children International, or Green Peace or what-not (you may not have these guys in other cities) I literally screamed in one of their faces today because he was being a bit to insistent on talking to me as I was trying to get past to buy lunch.

I screamed.

In a really mean manner.

I think I may need to get out of the city for a while.

026: Photo Phriday


I'm under a bit of a gag order about what I'm currently working on at the office. I've had to sign confidentiality agreements, etc. etc. So... let's pretend that it has to do with giraffes. A show about giraffes. I've been working on said giraffe show off and on for a year, and exclusively for the last 6 months. I have done NOTHING but giraffes since Halloween. This is a highly complex show (a you'd expect from giraffes) and in order to get the story told I have had to multiple renderings. Initially this meant 10. Then it was 35. At last count I have 68 renderings in the packet. 68 that have been kept at least. If you count every rendering that has been done... it is over 300. And I have done 70% of them myself. 300 renderings of giraffes.

I am SO sick of giraffes. I swear to god I have found every photo of giraffes on the internet, not to mention drawing my own. I've manipulated them, redrawn them combined them and literally made them jump through hoops. After two more weeks of this I will hopefully get a break from the giraffes, and let me tell you, it won't be a minute too soon. I HATE me some giraffe right now.




Desire Under The Elms: A Review

Thanks to the vagaries of tickets being passed down through friends I got the opportunity tonight to see the current Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's "Desire Under The Elms."

Going into this show I knew nothing about it, other than it had a stellar cast, and had transferred from the the Goodman in Chicago. I checked a synopsis of the play... a pastoral drama, set in 1900's New England about three sons fighting to inherit their mean spirited and manipulative father's farm. It conjures certain images, right?

As the curtain rose I was greeted with something I NEVER expected. The show began with a burst of white light and the sound of an explosion as played on a bass. The set revealed behind the curtain was an enormous pile of grey stone with a dead pig hanging from its rear feet stage left. Large boulders were suspended from the fly by gigantic loops of rope and two men in filthy rags were moving stones around on stage. Is this a post-apocalyptic retelling of the story? Was I in the wrong theatre? I wasn't sure. A few minutes into the show as the three brothers had been introduced and the nugget of the conflict between them had started to be revealed I was faced with something even odder.

The basic thrust is this: Dad is an ass. The youngest son is only a half-brother to the other two, and the two older brothers know that they have no chance of inheriting the farm, so they are leaving. The younger son blames dad for working his mom to death and for stealing the land from her, so he assumes the land should rightfully be his when Dad kicks it. Dad has other ideas as he soon drags home a new bride who is under the assumption that all this will be HERS when her elderly husband shuffles off. So the over arcing theme of the show, the disposition of this farm, comes to be represented very literally by a two story farm house that is lowered in and spends the rest of the show suspended and dangling over the heads of the cast. Their greatest desire, just out of their reach, but ever present and threatening to crush them. Get it?

The weird boulders also continually hang there... but I never quite figured out what they were supposed to represent.

We are told repeatedly by the characters, both in dialogue and in wistful scenes where they stare off into the fourth wall, how "purdy" the land that they are fighting over is. All we can see as the audience is the grey of the rock, the house, the rear wall, the floor, the furniture... the never ending dull dreary grey. It really left me wondering why the heck anybody would be fighting over it in the first place. The youngest son even bribes his older brothers to leave, giving them enough money to sail to California and join the gold rush. Enough money in fact that he probably could have just bought his own land elsewhere and washed his hands of the entire problem. I THINK that his desire for the land was supposed to be truly about his desire to see his dead mother happy, but again, if the land were her spirit shouldn't it have been marginally comforting?

The show is rarely performed, and I can see why. It is written in a thick Maine (I guess?) dialect and is often hard to understand. None of the characters are particularly likable, and none of them seem like the type you want to root for. The script is often as bleak as the setting we were given. Granted O'Neill writes some dark, disturbed characters, but I can't help but wonder if we had seen some beautiful elms on stage, or a touch of any color at all in fact, would it have served as a better counter-point to the dreary script, rather than constantly underlining the script visually. I'm also not sure if it was just a function of the dating of the script, but there was never really a plot twist that I didn't see coming. Maybe in the intervening years too many people have ripped off these ideas, but every solution the characters had was at once obvious, and utterly wrong. Even their final decision, leaving the father alone and shattered, the sole possessor of the land he had tempted them with, seemed forced, and only to be made because the script demanded that they leave stage at that point.

I've seen in other reviews that a good deal of the dialogue was cut to keep the show at it's rather brisk 100 minutes (no intermission) which would explain why everything seemed very clipped and precise, with none of the expounding and expanding that O'Neill usually gives us. The situation never really seemed real, the stacatto delivery of every line in the show left me me with a feeling that I was watching a very good table read, but something that should flesh out more during rehearsal.

In all I would say that I would have found this an excellent production if it had been a bunch of graduate students. I think the director wanted a grand sweeping epic along the lines of Shakespeare (he also directed last year's Lear, with some of the same cast and creative team) but what he ended up with a post-apocalyptic Lifetime movie. At least the set was fun to look at, and intriguing to watch, even if the metaphor was a bit ham-fisted.


Subway Sketch



Rikki Tikki Tavi: Final Dress

The set is complete! Final dress went off without a hitch, the costumes look lovely with my scenery, everyone is happy with how it turned out... now we just relax and wait for the kids to show up tomorrow morning. Here's a little of what they'll see:

The human characters are masked actors, to give them a level of reality different from the animals. Everyone in the show except Rikki plays at least two characters and some as many as four. The actors don't really leave stage when they aren't in character, but perch to the side and become observers.

Rikki exploring her new home after being adopted by the humans.

One of the dance sequences, the ladies on the floor are fledgling birds learning to fly, and thus becoming endangered by the various snakes in the show.

One of many fight sequences, the final one in fact: Rikki vs. Nagana. The fights are a mix of
dance, ballet, and kung fu moves. The snakes use tantos to represent their fangs.

All in all I feel really good about this design. The process went smoothly, there were no major hangups, I only had to do one really long night (last night) and most everything came out the way I had originally envisioned. (Compare the photos the original sketch.) The only major difference is the rugs, but they were cut early on by the fight choreographer who was afraid of the actors tripping. I had hoped to have a rug in the area behind the arch on the left anyway, but I could never find one cheap enough (re:free.) I came in $20 over budget (3%.) I may in fact end up being under budget if the production manager follows my advice and raises a fuss about the paint. I had ordered 3 gallons of the tan, and after finishing the first can was shocked to see that the second can was a completely different color. The third can was different than either of those. The green that I used for the floor was the same story. 2 gallons, 2 different colors even though they were mixed by the same person on the same day. We shouldn't have to pay for that. (Not full price at least!)

Plus... it looks great.

020:Photo Phriday

Rikki Tikki Tavi Build: Day 5

I'm about 90% at this point... well, actually MY portion is about 98%, I just have one prop to quickly paint and I'm done unless the director has notes. The staff has one or two minor things left to do, completing the curtains, hanging some masking backstage... but not much really. This show has gone incredibly smooth.

Now if you'll excuse me it is 4:15 am, and I still have to be at my regular job tomorrow as well...

Final dress photos tomorrow!!


Rikki Tikki Tavi Build: Day 4

Things really started moving in a dynamic visual way on the set today. Primary build was completed while I was at work, so I came in to a mostly done set. After rehearsals ended it was my job to start painting and get everything looking like something other than a big block of wood. The company manager and the production manager stayed behind and helped me base everything, and then they left me to my own devices to begin the "scenic" painting. Hard to see the blue painting that I did since it is very close to the same color that is left on the walls from the previous show, but that was my big push for tonight. I also completed all of the curtains and pillows while was rehearsal was in progress, and did some work on some of the prop pieces. Tomorrow night will be the floor, and a start on the Ganesh mural that is inside the nook there, as well as hopefully beginning to put up the greenery.


Rikki Tikki Tavi Build: Day 3

Not much visual movement on the set today. There's a new all on the left of this photo, and the rear masking on that central unit went into place. There was some movement off stage, things that will be put in place tomorrow.

Tonight was the actors' first day on stage. Because they use the stage as a rehearsal space this show has been rehearsing on the set for the previous show, which was radically different. In a show like this, that is mostly fight choreography and stylized dance this adjustment period is critical. The actors get to see the real challenges they are facing, and start to iron out whether they are going to be able to do what they thought they were going to be able to do. I don't know how many times I've gotten to this stage only to hear an actor say something like "Wow, this wall is taller than I thought." Or, "I thought I was going to be able to step through this area, but there's a bench here!"

My contribution tonight was mostly sitting in the dressing room and sewing curtains and pillows. I have 50 yards of crushed gold and red silk to get shaped into curtains!


Rikki Tikki Tavi Build: Day 2

Well, this is the state of things on day two. Starting to take form. There wasn't a lot for me to do today, the children's theatre luckily has a great staff that carries on the building during the day while I am at my office job.

My big accomplishment for me today was finding the fabric for the curtain surround that I planned. I had hoped that Materials For The Arts (a local organization that provides free materials to non-profit orgs) would have the cloth I wanted, but they failed me this time. So on the way to the theatre I hit my favorite Chinatown fabric store and managed to haggle them down to $5 a yard on some beautiful crushed silk that is going to look GREAT on the set. That stuff lights like a dream. Earlier today I haggled the fine folks at Pier 1 down on a floor model wicker vase that wanted. It was marked $60, but the neck was broken so I took it away for $20. A little hot glue and no one will notice from stage. Now I just have to find two more...


(Update: For some reason this photo corrupted on its original upload, so I've replaced it, sorry for the inconvenience. )

12 of 12: April

It's the 12th, so time once again for Chad Darnell's 12 of 12 project. To see every participant from this month check the post here. On to my day!

Breakfast time. For the past couple months I've been obsessed with 5 Grain Cereal from Bob's Red Mill. Think oatmeal, but a step up. Delicious with brown sugar, slivered almonds and the dried cherries that Kid Flash's mom brought us over Christmas. (That's the cereal stored in that jar.)

Lots to take care of this weekend, including finishing up some trading cards that I've been working on. I did a batch of these a couple years ago towards the end of the project, but this time I wa sin on the ground floor. I have until Wednesday to get them finished, and still a few to do. (This pic might look a bit weird because they are arrayed on my light box.)

Mid afternoon I head down to the Children's theatre to start the load-in for Rikki Tikki Tavi, the show I posted the sketch for a few days ago. This guy was on the platform, must have had a rough Easter morning... or a bit much communion wine. (Do they do communion on Easter?)

Downtown at the stop for the theatre. A more... personalized... looking conductor than these signs usually sport.

I had done the costumes for the previous show, so my first task at the theatre was to clean up the dressing rooms and put the costumes back into storage.

By the time I was done with that the previous set was pretty much gone, and my set had started to go up.

While the carpenters were hard at work on the set I started stitching together some of the many cushions and pillows that I need for the set.

Easter dinner. Cheese pizza at the theatre.

The carps at work assembling set pieces.

Stitching the seat cushion for the nook on the set closed.

This is what things looked like at the theatre when I left for the evening. I plan for my daily 365 shots this week to replicate this shot and position every night as the set progresses, so check back if you are interested to see it as it moves towards what the set sketch looked like (hopefully.)

Back at my home station, headed up to do a couple more card sketches, post these pics and head to bed!! See you next month.


Today In Uselessness

Spotted these in the drug store today. Rubber gloves that have some sort of... something... on the palms that allows you to peel a potato just by... rubbing it or something. I've spent all day thinking about this. The general stupidity of the American public, not to mention the utter LAZINESS. I just don't get these. How does one even invent something like this? Sadly enough... it seems they don't work. Not that I'm surprised.


013: Photo Phriday: Phleet