And the costume and set designs, too, at Lyman Allyn exhibition
Theatergoers see a finished product onstage: elaborate costumes, dramatic sets, evocative lighting.
A new exhibition at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum unveils everything that leads up to that - the development process, the creative artistry.
"Curtain Up: Broadway Behind the Scenes: Costume, Set, and Lighting Designs" shines a spotlight on design work that went into such Tony-winning musicals as "The Producers," "Hairspray" and "Memphis."
William Ivey Long's drawings for a gloriously glitzy costume for a "Money Girl" chorine in "The Producers" hang next to the finished product on a mannequin - a halter-topped gold-spangled bodysuit, accented with coins around the neck, bills sprouting from the headpiece, and rhinestone pantyhose adoring the legs.
Visitors can follow Robin Wagner's hermit-hut set design for "Young Frankenstein," as it moved from a tiny white preliminary model made from mat board; to a multi-colored, quite detailed maquette, which looks like a diorama; to a photo of the final product onstage.
"Curtain Up" was curated by Lyman Allyn Art Museum Director Nancy Stula and by someone who knows theater extraordinarily well - Tom Viertel. Viertel is an esteemed Broadway producer of shows, including "The Producers," "Young Frankenstein" and Hairspray." He has a home in Noank and is also long-time board chairman of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.
The whole idea for the exhibition grew out of a discussion they had when Stula asked Viertel to write a letter in support of the Lyman Allyn to the National Endowment for the Arts.
Stula figured that since they both "do shows" - she exhibitions, he producing stage work - there must be some crossover between the two genres.
But when trying to find a common link between museum and stage work, they realized, well, there wasn't much. Exhibitions are often the vision of a single curator, while a Broadway show is the ultimate team effort.
Museum workers are used to giving everything the literal white-glove treatment. Stage designers don't think that way.
"They treat these as working models," Stula says.
When William Ivey Long's assistant, Donald Sanders, asked Stula if she would be comfortable with ripping the seam of one outfit and literally duct-taping it to the mannequin. She said, quite honestly, that she wouldn't be.
So Sanders came up and did the honors.
Sanders did, by the way, suggest Stula use white gloves in one instance: to pull pantyhose onto a mannequin simply so they didn't run.
What's particularly worthy of note for area residents is that each show has a local connection. Stephen and Ruth Hendel, who have a home in Waterford, are producers of "Fela!" Sue Frost of Old Lyme is a managing producer of "Memphis." Geoff Rich, who also lives part-time in Old Lyme, is a producer of "Avenue Q." That musical comedy, by the way, was developed at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford. In fact, the Lyman Allyn also devoted a gallery to the O'Neill for this exhibition.
"Hairspray" set designer David Rockwell has seen his Rockwell Group take on plenty of other wide-ranging projects, including designing the set for this year's Oscars - and much of the Mohegan Sun.
For "Curtain Up," individual galleries at the museum are devoted to individual musicals, and one room offers up viewings of video sequences from Broadway productions of all of the shows.
In a corner of the "Hairspray" room is a feather-bedecked, pastel-patterned dress that Harvey Fierstein donned as Edna Turnblad. The actor wore padding under the ensemble, which is shown in a photo; Lyman Allyn ordered a plus-size mannequin and still had to pad it.
Next to the mannequin is designer William Ivey Long's costume bible. (Designers compile everything costume-related - actors' measurements, fabric swatches, drawings - into huge, three-ring-binders.) From the "Hairspray" bible, snapshots of Fierstein trying on the costume are laid out, along with a photo of the padding and a sample of the multi-hued feathers used for the dress.
On the "Hairspray" gallery wall are set-design color sketches, affixed with what inspired the pastel scheme: Necco wafers.
The "Fela!" section of "Curtain Up" boasts large framed lighting plots. It features, too, an actual piece of the set from the off-Broadway production. Scenic and costume designer Marina Draghici did research about 1970s Nigeria, where the show is set. She used all that to inform what the styles of clothing should be and what materials should be used for the set. She also researched the types of images that might have been found there - and gave those details to street artists who would paint the walls of the set.
"She gave them quite a lot of freedom because she wanted to capture a certain amount of spontaneity," Stula says.
Some set designers are very meticulous in their models and create the equivalent of blueprints that the people who build the sets follow.
"Marina works in a completely different way," Stula says. "She just gave (the street artists) research, gave them ideas, but she let them come up with the composition, the colors, in order to keep it spontaneous."
"Memphis" set designer David Gallo, on the other hand, uses technology as he develops his set designs. He doesn't create paper models as, say, Robin Wager does. He does preliminary sketches but then does a lot of 3-D computer modeling, as a video running in the "Memphis" gallery illustrates.
And the work doesn't have to just speak for itself. While visitors are walking through the Lyman Allyn, they can hear from the creators. They can use their cell phones to access audio in which some of the designers - as well as some producers - reflect on the productions.