LONG ISLAND, NY – Theater audiences today are accustomed to seeing musicals where songs and dances are woven into a well-crafted dramatic storyline, but that was rarely the case prior to the 1943 Broadway debut of Oklahoma!. The Rogers and Hammerstein classic’s smashing success (it ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances) marked the beginning of a new era, one that would ultimately see the songs and dances in a musical go from being mere entertainment numbers to vital parts of the unfolding narrative.
Lighting designer Zach Blane did justice to this “Book Musical” tradition in a recently concluded, Igor Goldin directed, revival of Oklahoma! at the John W. Engeman Theatre. Drawing on a collection of Ovation, COLORdash and Rogue fixtures from CHAUVET Professional, Blane conveyed key dramatic elements of the play in light, particularly during pivotal scenes, such as the famous 15 minute “Dream Ballet” at the conclusion of Act One.
“My main mission is always to support the script and convey the clearest story possible,” said Blane. “I tell people that I am not a Lighting Designer, but a Dramaturgical Storyteller that deals in the medium of light.”
In the case of Oklahoma!, Blane contributed to the play’s narrative by conveying large vast open sky and directional hot sunlight as well as beautiful romantic moonlight, since much of the play’s original narrative transpires outdoors. However, in this production, the entire show is set in a barn-like structure.
“D.T. Willis did a masterful job designing the unit set, leaving jewels of interest for the audience to pick out throughout the evening, but it did create wonderful challenges,” said Blane. “The lighting design always had to take into account whether we wanted the scenery structure to feel interior or exterior, architectural or organic. The only way to convey this differentiation subconsciously to the audience is through lighting.”
Blane credits the realistic color rendering and flat even light field provided by the Ovation E-910FC fixtures in his rig with helping him create these subtle mood changes. He used ten of the RGBA-Lime ellipsoidals with 36° lenses, positioning them on 12’ booms with soft gobos, five stage left and five stage right.
“The Ovations were a direct replacement for standard incandescent ellipsoidals with scrollers,” he said. “I used them as “color option” head-high lights and to help create lanes of light. I wanted the audience to acutely be aware of where the sun/moon was at all times. This entire show is on the tint color spectrum, so the Ovation’s ‘pale scale’ capabilities came in very handy.”
Adding to the range of colors on stage were the 18 COLORdash Par-Quad 18 RGBA fixtures that Blane placed on the overhead electrics. In addition to serving as top/back lights, these fixtures were used to create extra visual impact and colorized the show floor.
Blane’s rig also included incandescent ellipsoidals and pars as well as cyc lights, RGBA LED tape and 12 Rogue R2 Washes, two of which were positioned on FOH truss, two on booms at +10’-0” located stage left and right, and six overstage in a triangle staggered formation for good air.
“I used the Rogues for specials and downlight pools,” said Blane. “They stood out as useful tools during the dream ballet, providing pools of light anywhere I needed them. The ‘lighting language’ of the dream ballet consisted of beautiful pools of light that root the action so the audience can track the dream as it relates to Laurey, and low angle dance light, to help guide the eye. In the true tradition of storytelling, the dream ballet is a wonderful example of cross-departmental collaboration between brilliant choreographer Drew Humphrey and myself. The Rogues were invaluable in helping me make my contribution to support Drew and the dancers.”
Part of the transformative power of the lighting during the dream ballet and throughout Oklahoma! was the result of Blane’s design making audiences feel as if they were in an older, period-appropriate incandescent world. The smooth dimming curves and color temperature options of his CHAUVET Professional LED fixtures allowed him to create this impression.
“Oklahoma! is an old world show, so the ‘incandescent look’ made it feel right,” he said. “The LED fixtures easily allowed me to hide the technology, while still enjoying its benefits. I was impressed with how the Chauvet fixtures were able to fold right into the rest of the rig and not stick out as “technology”. I am using them again in a few months at the Engeman for productions of Grease and Gypsy. So, in the span of six months, we’ll have three very different musicals that have very different requirements, but the versatile fixtures will help me support the varied genres and tell each story appropriately in light.”