Archive for Theater

The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd

My next production, which opens this weekend, is a bit of a labor of love a long time coming. I did this show 22 years ago and always wanted a chance to do it again. The problem is that no one ever does this show. That’s a shame, because there’s there some wonderful material here. Perfect? By no means, but neither is a good chunk of theater that is done constantly, and no others have the gorgeous songs “Who Can I Turn To?” and “Feeling Good” among others.

The story itself is allegory for the British class system, and this is one reason the show is avoided, certainly in the US. People think its politics are outdated. The ideas are absolutely simplified, but the story of Haves and Have-nots, where the ruling class defines rules in order to keep the lower classes in their place, is certainly one I feel is relevant to our current political climate in this country.

In the show, Sir is the Have playing against Cocky the Have-not on a life-size gameboard. The setting is not clearly defined (it’s a barren landscape in the script, and Leslie Bricusse once said the show was supposed to take place in the post-apocalyptic world everyone suspected was coming at the time the show was written in the 60’s). The songs are all fairly liftable, meaning that for the most part they aren’t woven seamlessly into the story as musicals now tend to do it (or try to) and the scenes seem like British music hall comedy routines. It’s a weird and lovely (and very darkly comic) show.

So how would you portray this on a poster? That was my challenge here. The original production simply had a silhouette of Cocky and Sir arguing over a bag. With all due respect to the original designer, I don’t feel this says much about what the audience has in store. The fact that ANTHONY NEWLEY and CYRIL RITCHARD appear over the title probably made the graphic not nearly as important.

For my production though, which I was directing and choreographing as well as performing in (not my original intention — I really wanted to do the show, and no director came forward to apply), I wanted a poster that showed the struggle, but also pulled in the “game” aspect. This was important since my setting was actually to be a toy shop in ruins and I felt there should be some toy aspect on the poster. In addition I wanted to show the struggle between the two characters and, if possible, convey a feeling of circa 1960, but in ruin.

The end result was this:

greasepaint_poster_3

The photos are all of my hands, actually, and the gamebox is a Dora the Explorer Chutes and Ladders game that I then modified with the new artwork digitally. I tried to use colors that I saw on old games from the 60’s (Life, certainly) along with an appropriate font, and started the game on the box with a mushroom cloud. The taglines I felt added just enough insight into what goes on in the show (playing for bread or love, from birth to death), and the chutes and ladders in the background add some additional texture.

Probably one of my favorite touches, not apparent in this low-res version, is the ring on the finger made from a coin bearing the likeness of Queen Victoria. The raised edges on the ring have dried blood. Like I said, the show is darkly comic, and I felt the violence should be at least subtly represented on the poster.

That’s the poster, now how about a drink? As the cast is mostly underage kids, I wasn’t really inspired to create a whole suite of cocktails (I mean, there’s not going to be a cast party to try them out), but I had to do one, didn’t I? Coming next…

The Light in the Piazza

poster_portrait

My next series of cocktails was for a show my wife produced and performed in a year ago, The Light in the Piazza. She fell in love with this Tony award-winning show a few years ago and was anxiously awaiting a theater to produce it so she might be in it. After waiting a while and never seeing it appear in any season she began shopping the idea around to multiple local theaters, but none bit. It wouldn’t sell, they said. So she took on the project of starting her own theater company and producing it herself, a Herculean effort which she not only pulled off (the show was wonderful), but did so to great response AND she made money without having any name recognition or subscriber base (wouldn’t sell, they said…).

My job was mostly not taking on any shows myself and watching our kids. I did contribute support through some graphics work, including the design of the company logo and the poster for the show, which you can see above. To achieve this I found an interactive panorama of the piazza from the show (the Piazza della Signoria) and adjusted it to what I felt was a dynamic angle. I then captured the image and took it into Illustrator, where I traced it out and made some adjustments to better fit my composition.

The bands of light are an obvious nod to the title of the piece, and the hat is an image from the show, where the wind takes the character of Clara’s hat off her head and into the hands of the man she falls in love with. I liked the way the blue popped against the rosey colors of the lights.

The fonts and text character arrangement probably take me just as long if not longer than the other graphic images, but I was happy with the title in the end, and felt it was appropriate for the piece.

Of course, my other job was conceiving some cocktails, which I did for some online publicity and presented at the cast party. I was going to start with three — one for each location in the musical (Florence, Rome and Winston-Salem, North Carolina) — but in the end crafted five, with one more by request and another an inspiration from a bottle I found.

It’s the first series of cocktails I made for a show I wasn’t in. There are a lot of shows I’m not in. I’m not sure this is a good or bad precedent…

Young Frankenstein

Young-Frankenstein-web

Right on the heels of Parade I will be performing in the musical adaptation of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (that’s FronkenSTEEN!), appearing as the good doctor himself. Whereas for some of the other shows I have struggled a bit to come up with themes for drinks (see the aforementioned Parade) with Young Frankenstein I hit on my theme almost immediately — an electric jolt of creativity, if you will.

I had recently visited Sydney on business and enjoyed a number of the bars I found in the city. At a couple of establishments they employed smoke and fire and other additional elements for drinks that I had yet to experiment with at home. I wanted to play a bit of a mad scientist with my drinks for Young Frankenstein, as would be fitting, and was inspired by what I saw and tasted.

Upon returning home I immediately ordered my Smoking Gun and a chef’s torch and played. I wanted to go all molecular gastronomy on some cocktails, but liquid nitrogen scared me (cost aside, reading stories about stomach linings destroyed will do that to you) and turning drinks into gelatins or foams didn’t really appeal. That was OK, though, because I could still incorporate some less-than-common elements into some drinks and follow my theme through.

And that theme? It was more of a challenge or puzzle for me that required a lot of trial and error and experimentation, which I thought was perfect. I wanted to take six classic cocktails, then break apart all of their ingredients and rearrange and reassemble them, injecting each one with something a little “Abby Normal” (fire, smoke, etc.). Over the course of the next two weeks I will present the results one by one, but first I would introduce the control group in the experiment:

Martini

  • 2.5 oz. London Dry Gin
  • 0.5 oz. Dry Vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • lemon twist

Manhattan

  • 2.0 oz. Rye
  • 1.0 oz. Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • cherry

Negroni

  • 1.0 oz. London Dry Gin
  • 1.0 oz. Campari
  • 1.0 oz. Sweet Vermouth
  • orange twist

Sidecar

  • 2.0 oz. Cognac
  • 1.0 oz. Cointreau
  • 0.75 oz. lemon juice
  • sugared rim

Daiquiri

  • 2.0 oz. White Rum
  • 0.5 oz. simple syrup
  • 0.5 oz. lime juice

Margarita

  • 2.0 oz. Reposado Tequila
  • 1.0 oz. Cointreau
  • 0.75 oz. lime juice
  • salted rim

Parade

parade

Parade is the true and tragic story of Leo Frank, a Jew from Brooklyn who was tried for rape and murder, convicted, exonerated, then lynched in Atlanta, Georgia at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is a tale of a dark part of American history, of our racism, hatred, media sensationalism and mob mentality, retold by Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry in the American art form of musical theater.

I am in a production of Parade that will be presented by the Footlight Club, America’s oldest running community theater, in Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA. It isn’t a show that would immediately inspire you to make drinks (well, maybe to start drinking…). It is a very sobering piece of theater, powerful in its message, dealing with themes that don’t steer you to more frivlous pursuits.

Yet I have set myself up now within my theater community. People expect cocktails from me, even though I have only been creating show-related cocktails for about a year. So with Parade I got constant questions about what was coming. I joked about “Moonshine and Manischewitz” but really had no ideas. Cocktails seemed a silly tie in.

And so they were. With our rehearsals for the show, we found that irreverence itself helped in dealing with the weightiness of the subject matter. Joke in rehearsals and you can deal and commit to the seriousness of the performance. So the cocktails followed a similar suit. I made no attempt to be “inspired” by the show for cocktails and instead produced rather silly concoctions based on throwaway lines in the show that mention food.

This came from one of my own lines (for those who might know the show, I am playing Britt “Big News!” Craig). At one point I mention watermelon pickles. I almost immediately thought I could pull off that combination in a drink. That became my first in a series of four drinks extracted from lines in Parade that deal with food.

Enjoy the drinks and be irreverent. Sometimes the sobering facts of our world require it.

Chess Poster

As a temporary break from cocktails, I thought I might post another of my recent creative endeavors, the creation of a poster for a local production of the musical Chess (for those not into the whole scene, it was the one written by the guys from Abba back in the 80’s that included the radio hit “One Night in Bangkok”). And it serves as a lesson to me in how to handle projects like this in the future, as you will see.

So, to begin, the musical has a backdrop of international chess competitions, and, taking place during the Cold War, it focuses on a rivalry between the US and the USSR. There’s espionage and a love story between a Russian defector and an American woman who serves as second to the American competitor. It’s all a bit convoluted, and the book is a bit of a mess, but the music is pretty catchy even if the lyrics are somewhat clunky and heavy-handed to my ear.

I knew that I wanted some central chess image, and you’ve got either a checkerboard or a chess pieces, really. The original concept used a checkerboard falling apart, which I quite like, and the Broadway had two people running in front of flags without any hint of chess, which I don’t like at all. I thought I might create a chess piece that would create an optical illusion in the empty space of the two competitors facing off. Once I had done this, I was surprised to find that the highlights on the chess piece implied a second illusion of a face. I went further with this and created a woman’s face that was between two competing men, which I thought captured the triangle in the musical.

poster

After getting approval to move forward with this concept, I added a chess board below the piece and wanted to texture this with marble, which mimicked a chess board I had when growing up. During that process, I threw the marble behind the piece as well since the empty space was bothering me a bit. At that point I discovered that I could place the texture in such a way as to imply faces for the silhouetted figures, which I thought was a nice, subtle touch. After that it was just about getting all the words on to the poster, the greatest challenge for me, generally.

chess_poster_marble

To quote Fantine, “And then it all went wrong.” Unfortunately, although I really liked it, this wasn’t the direction the creative team wanted to go. To them, there was no relationship triangle in the show and their production would be focused on the espionage and the US vs. USSR, something I hadn’t been told at the beginning of the process. They were quite right that this poster didn’t promote that idea. I was very proud of the result, but it wasn’t right. They also didn’t like the marble and instead wanted something that showed the political angle. And then I made a mistake.

To show that filling the silhouetted space with something like flags would not only ruin the illusion, but also be a little too much hitting the nail on the head with a sledgehammer in a poster with too many ideas, I threw the following together. I thought it would be quickly dismissed and that I could move forward with the poster I liked.

chess_poster_flags

You can probably see where this is going.

They loved it. I offered to try something else to get the political angle in without destroying the initial concept. I didn’t love this either, but felt it was a better option at least.

chess_poster_reflection

Nope, no good. They felt this was too many ideas, which I completely agreed with (I think I might have said it first), that somehow the flags in the background avoided, which I didn’t agree with. So in the end, since it is their production and not mine, and it needs to express what they want it to express, I cleaned up the flags in the background and gave them this.

chess_poster_final

I do believe it has too many ideas crammed into it and the illusions of both the silhouettes and the woman’s face are a bit lost (and, when not lost, looks like they have hats, as my wife commented), and if I could approach it from scratch I would do it completely differently, but with deadlines looming and my time extremely limited (I also volunteer for this — it is not a paid gig) we had to move forward with this, a piece I am wholly unsatisfied with, which is frustrating since I was so happy with the original product.

Lessons to me are never to proceed with anything unless I get very clear instructions on what is desired from all parties involved, even if deadlines are approaching. And, more importantly, never submit something that I know I do not like. This was my fault and completely backfired in this case. I knew I hated the flags. I assumed everyone would hate the flags. I never should have mocked it up.

Lesson learned. Now it’s time to make a drink.

Cocktails in the Park with George

Scene from Sunday in the Park with George at Vokes Theater, Wayland, MA
The last production I was fortunate to be a part of was Sunday in the Park with George at Vokes Theater in Wayland, MA (that’s me with the beard in the lower right setting up the monkey). This James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim Pulitzer Prize-winning musical tells a mostly fictional account of the nineteenth century artist Georges Seurat’s time spent sketching for and painting his famous A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte, his failure to connect with those around him during this process (and during his short life), and his (totally fictional) great-grandson’s resolution of art and relationships 100 years later. In a nutshell. Oh, and I got to sing as a couple of dogs.

When I first began to consider drinks I might make inspired by the show, I looked at the mantra Georges repeated throughout the show, his list of attributes that contributed to the creation of his art: order, composition, balance, light, harmony (among others). However, these proved too abstract for me (maybe a pousse cafe for order? an equal parts drink for balance?) so instead I turned to the eleven colors Seurat used in his first phase of the painting (there were three phases, I guess, with the second one in which he added the monkey and the third when he painted a pointilistic border around the painting; both phases added to the number of colors used, but I only have so much liquor).

There is a line in the show where Georges states, “Eleven colors, no black. Not mixed on the palette, but mixed by the eye.” Lovely. And false, really. Seurat used these colors, yes, but he did mix them freely on the palette before applying them the canvas. Ah well, artistic license.

But I did have eleven distinct colors (or so I thought until I had to make minor blue and yellow variations, but we’ll get to that…). My decision then was to create a set of drinks based on colors, where the spirits and mixers involved did not contribute to any story behind the drink other than the pigment they provided. I thought it was an interesting challenge with a lot of potential for flavor combinations unencumbered by theme (again, until I got to those damn blue drinks…).

For reference, the colors Seurat used were:

  • Vermilion
  • Organic Red Lake
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Iron Oxide Yellow
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Chrome Yellow
  • Viridian
  • Emerald Green
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Lead White

As I am writing this post after the completion of the full set, I can tantalize you with the image of all together before I break each one down individually.

Sunday in the Park with George Cocktails

As Georges is written to say, “Can’t you see the shimmering!”