We are still as busy as ever with recent events and as well as our book, The Art of the Party, but we would like to continue our look at our Team within the world of David Stark Design and Production. Up next is Anthony Napoletano, our Studio Production Coordinator who keeps our 8th Street Studio running smoothly. After he brushes of the sawdust, he's been known act in some great shows. Here he talks about his love for theater and the similarities between scenic design and event design.
I entered into the world of David Stark Design and Production through The Theatre - which is not so surprising since the two are actually very similar. Both involve dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of people working together over a long period of time to produce something that ultimately only lasts a few hours in duration. Whether it’s a two and a half hour Broadway musical, or a six hour Bar Mitzvah, we create an experience for the audience or guests that will last in their memory long after the curtain comes down. Even though I was bitten by the acting bug at age 8, I also became fascinated by scenic design and how an empty stage could transform into practically anything from a park in Paris, to a mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite set designs from the American musical theatre whose visual innovation has inspired me:
For the 1979 Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd”, legendary scenic designer Eugene Lee completely gutted the Uris Theatre (now the Gershwin Theatre) to create a dark and ominous turn-of-the-century London. Stripping the auditorium down to it’s basic structural elements, he incorporated the metal beams and catwalks into the design. Lee used a great deal of salvaged wood and metal materials to give the theatre the gritty and opressed feeling of a run-down factory. A giant steam whistle was brought in from a foundry in New England, and it’s piercing shreik added a chilling accompaniment to the Demon Barber of Fleet Street’s murders.
Angela Lansbury in the original Broadway production (above). Note the paned-glass ceiling. Lighting instruments were positioned behind the windows to offer subtle theatrical shifts in mood or environment.
Another Stephen Sondheim musical, “Sunday in the Park with George” is based on Georges Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” In the original 1984 production, Tony Straiges won a Tony Award for his incorporation of two-dimensional scenic elements paired with the three-dimensional actors to recreate the iconic painting.
In the 2008 revival, David Farley and Timothy Bird & the Knifedge Creative Network were also nominated for their innovative design. Using the play’s themes of “Color and Light”, they projected moving and still images onto a bare white set.
The late 1980’s and early 90’s brought a British invasion of powerhouse epic musicals. In 1987, John Napier teamed up with French composers Boublil and Schönberg to bring a musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Miserables” to the stage. Utilizing a turntable and automated scenery, this three and a half hour long musical took the United States by storm. It’s hard to imagine the show without Napier’s twisting and turning barricades, and subsequent productions have been hard-pressed to find a more successful alternative.
Next, Napier tackled the difficult task of bringing Vietnam to New York with the 1991 musical “Miss Saigon.” Also by Boublil and Schönberg, audiences were wowed by the state of the art scenery and special effects (at one point a full-sized helicopter takes off from the stage).
But TONY voters were nonplussed by this display of theatrical pyrotechnics, and the award for best scenic design that year went to Heidi Landesman’s elegant Victorian set for Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s “The Secret Garden.”
When I was 14 years old, I finally got out my little North Carolina town and made a trip to New York City. The first Broadway musical I saw was Maury Yeston and Peter Stone’s “Titanic.” Winning the 1997 TONY award, Stewart Laing’s design was able to portray one of history’s most horrific disasters as the giant ocean liner literally sank into the floor of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. A three-tiered set of hydraulic lifts made a gradual tilt to 30-degrees as furniture (and a piano) slid across the floor, crashing into the walls. The creative team had initially thought a 45-degree tilt would be possible, but it proved to be too impractical and unsafe for the actors.
The 2010 musical “American Idiot” by the alternative-punk band Green Day incorporated multimedia and television screens by designer Christine Jones. The towering set had musicians sitting on scaffolding 30 feet in the air, while moving lights highlighted the newspaper and album-cover clad walls.
I’m also fascinated by outdoor theatre spaces that incorporate the surrounding environment into the overall scenic design. Last year’s production of “Into the Woods” in Central Park did just that. Using mainly organic materials, John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmore made a seamless transition between the lush foliage of New York City’s beloved park and the wooded playground for actors. The stage floor was blanketed by leaves, and a large branch nest provided a home for both Cinderella’s tree-entombed mother and Rapunzel’s tower.
Between 2008 and 2010 I had the pleasure of performing in the international tour of “West Side Story.” Our bare-bones metal fire escape set (designed by Paul Gallis) brought a distinctly American feel to the production, along with black and white photos of New York projected against the backdrop. We performed all over the world, but one of my favorite venues was a 2000 year old ampitheatre built into the side of a hill in Lyon, France. One of my most cherished memories is dancing Jerome Robbins choreography to Leonard Bernstein’s magnificiant score while watching the moon rise over a French cityscape.
On a final note, Opera is notorious for their grand and extravegant set design. Upon searching for pictures of my favorite American designers, I stumbled across some photos of the Bregenz Opera Festival in Austria. Located on Lake Constance, they have brought environmental scenic design to a whole new level. I hope you enjoy!!
“Ein Maskenball” by Guiseppe Verdi, Set Design by Richard Jones
“La Bohem” by Giacomo Puccini, Set Design by Richard Jones and Antony McDonald
“Andre Chenier” by Umberto Giordano, Set Design by David Fielding