Ever since Lincoln Center Theater was re-established in 1985, only a handful of productions have moved from the Mitzi E. Newhouse, an off-Broadway space, to the Vivian Beaumont, a Broadway house. The most recent was Contact, which played the Newhouse from September, 1999 to January, 2000, and the Beaumont from March, 2000 to September 2002. To this select company add J.T. Rogers’ Oslo, which had a highly popular run last summer in the Newhouse and which begins preview performances in the Beaumont on March 23rd.
How do you move a show from the 299-seat Newhouse to the 1050-seat Beaumont? For answers, I watched an Oslo technical rehearsal this week with Bartlett Sher, the director, and Michael Yeargan, the scenic designer. “I always thought the play would look good in the Beaumont, even before we decided to move it,” Sher said. “We had to enlarge the space. The wall at the rear of the stage is 6 feet further back from the main playing area than it was in the Newhouse.” He added: “The projections at the rear look even more spectacular.” Further: “The sound has required adjustments – we’re using floor mikes – and the lighting has had to change significantly.”
According to Yeargan, the scenic design underwent less drastic adjustment. “However, we did discover that the floor plan we’d used for years” – for The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific, and The King and I, all of them acclaimed Sher/Yeargan collaborations – “wasn’t exactly accurate. The master carpenter alerted us to that fact when he began to make the early re-figurings.” Yeargan explained that the rear walls had to assume a more curved shape, owing to the undulating line of the Beaumont’s safety curtain.
Some of the more specific furnishings also changed. Yeargan said: “The big clock at the rear, done in a modified Gustavian-meets-Empire style” -- late-18th/early-19th century – “was built by the very resourceful prop department here at the theater. It is essentially a blown-up version of what we had before.” He went on: “The cartouche above the rear door is now a real cartouche, and it’s been more elaborately carved.”
The most challenging aspect of the production’s transition, Yeargan explained, involved the voms – the pathways by which the actors enter and exit the stage. “In the Newhouse, they were level with the playing area, so the actors could move the furniture on and off with relative ease.” And in the Beaumont? “They aren’t level, so we are using elevators to do some of the transitions.”
“Transitions,” Yeargan added, “are at the heart of a performance” – and, sometimes at LCT, of a successful production’s overall history.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.