July 25--In the early scenes of the musical "Les Miserables," the story unfolds in a half-dozen locations in about as many minutes. There's a shipyard, a bishop's home, an inn, etc.
On Broadway and national tours, a giant turntable became the hallmark of this massive show, with actors simply striding into the next location. In last year's Oscar-winning film, scene changes happened through the magic of editing.
But what can a theater do to create the epic sweep of multiple places -- including the streets of long-ago Paris -- in a small three-quarter arena like Academy Playhouse in Orleans? Create backdrops through technology.
For the first time there, multiple scene changes are being accomplished in "Les Miserables" by changing slides. Director Peter Earle and technical design coordinator Geof Newton created or bought about 30 photos that Newton then manipulated into scenic backdrops by a computer filter called Oilify to create an "impressionistic" look on the back wall.
"They look like oil paintings," Newton says, and the wall "didn't even get wet."
Instead, the slides are projected from a ceiling unit of a kind he says is often used in rock concerts, and switching images is controlled via laptop from the light booth. Some of the images used are literal, like the shipyard. Others are more atmospheric, like a shot of a galaxy for when Inspector Javert, who pursues escaped criminal Jean Valjean over the years, sings his signature number "Stars."
"You see these spaces without us having to change clunky scenery," Earle says. "It's just slide after slide after slide."
Not all of which were easy to find. "What was challenging was finding period pieces that didn't have anachronisms that needed to be edited out, like the skyline of Paris without the Eiffel Tower or without cars or without pedestrians in modern-looking clothes," Newton says. The actual site of the building of the barricade depicted in the show about revolution, he notes, now has a McDonald's restaurant.
Newton's real-life job is with Infor Global Solutions, and he regularly uses projectors and technology for conferences. "This is our first foray into it as a theatrical background," he says. "It's a great exercise, and I think we can leverage this into other productions at the theater, depending on how this works."
Newton believes the academy is the first Cape theater to use projection to this extent, and Earle says the technology opens up many possibilities: "This takes us up several levels production-wise."
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Some recent music by the composer of Broadway's "The Secret Garden" will be a cornerstone of a sequel concert that tenor Christopher Sidoli and pianist John Thomas will give Tuesday in Provincetown.
"Look to the Stars: An Evening of Celestial Music" will take place at 8 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House of Provincetown at 236 Commercial St.; admission is $20 at the door. Sidoli says he is "beyond thrilled" to work with Thomas, as well as soprano Anissa Hartline and mezzo-soprano Halcyone Hurst.
The program will feature classical and opera, novelty and art songs, pop classics, Broadway "treasures" and film themes. Plus the new work by "Secret Garden" composer Lucy Simon, Carly Simon's sister, who has been Sidoli's friend and mentor.
He wanted to include the Simon music this year, Sidoli says, because she has had "the most influence" on him as a singer. Hearing a track from "Secret Garden" when he was in high school made him realize he wanted to sing, and that was when he began lessons, auditioning and joined a choir.
"Lucy has been so kind to give us several new songs as well as unpublished songs with her blessing to premiere in Provincetown, where she and Carly once sang as the Simon Sisters," Sidoli says in a press release. "To be able to sing new music from my favorite composer, surrounded by talented colleagues, in an incredible performance venue, and in Provincetown is an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime."
Simon is an American composer whose work spans musical theater, popular music, folk melodies and art songs. She has won a Grammy Award, and been nominated for a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award. Besides "Secret Garden," Simon wrote a musical version of "The Little House on the Prairie," the score for which has never been published -- though its song "Nothing's Too Good For You" will be part of the "Look to the Stars" concert. Other work includes musical adaptations of "Wuthering Heights," which hasn't had a full production (its "Caro Mio" will be in the concert), and "Dr. Zhivago," which has played in San Diego and Australia. The Provincetown concert will feature three songs from that score: "Now," "It Comes as No Surprise" and "Watch the Moon."
Simon's most recent composition is a series of songs set to the poetry of William Butler Yeats titled "Among a Crowd of Stars." The "Look to the Stars" performance of "When You Are Old and Grey" will be a world premiere.
Sidoli has spent summers on Cape Cod since childhood and first performed at Harwich Junior Theatre in his early teens. He has been seen on other Cape and off-Broadway stages in the years since, and was part of the original cast of the Cape and New York hit of "Mama and Her Boys." For the past five years he has traveled North and South America with the Broadway tour of "Cats" in the featured roles of Gus/Growlitger/Bustopher Jones.
Thomas is a Provincetown-based composer, pianist, music director, actor, photographer, writer and event producer; He is also producer of the Great Music on Sundays @5 concert series at the meeting house.
Hartline is a soprano who has sung opera and musical theater, including as Jellylorum/Griddlebone in more than 400 performances of "Cats" and in tours throughout Asia as Sister Berthe and the Mother Abbess in "The Sound of Music." Hurst is a Provincetown High grad who has worked professionally as an actor, director and producer for more than a decade in New York City, Los Angeles and London.
For more theater news and commentary, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com/stagedoor and follow KathiSDCC on Twitter.
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