Theatre Tech Review – “Ghost” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

This summer I took my annual theatre trip to NYC for my ongoing study of lighting and sound design at professional theatres. This year’s trip included “Tribes”, performed at the Barrow Street Theatre (see the previous post for the review of “Tribes”), and “Ghost” at the Lunt-Fontanne theatre on Broadway. This review is specifically for “Ghost”.  The show closed on Aug 18th, 2012

The musical “Ghost” was written by Brude Joel Rubin (book & lyrics) and Dave Steward & Glen Gallard (music & lyrics).  Lighting design was by Hugh Vanstone, video & projection design by Jon Driscoll, and sound design by Bobby Aitken.  My primary interest is lighting, projection, and sound, and that’s what this blog is about. If you want a snyopsis of the musical, and come commentary about the acting, take a look at this link.  It was a very nice production, and we enjoyed the entire performance, story, and production.

This is a technical review, and my thoughts and opinions follow:

Lighting: The lighting was stunning. While I’ve come to expect high quality lighting designs on Broadway, this was one of the best.  Lighting and video were integral to the set, as equipment was often visible to the audience yet did not distract.  There were what looked like VL5’s along the sides going from US to DS.  Other fixtures looked like VL3000 or similar profile fixtures, in addition to conventionals and LED truss warmers.  Yes, truss warmers for the procenium visible truss (dark purple used liberally), as well as visible overhead druss lowered in on occasion.  For example, in one office setting dance number, the entire overhead rig was lowered into view and lent an over-the-top feeling to the musical theme which was also over-the-top about money.  Nice way to mix it up between the drama of the love story, and the greed of the bad guy.  I also really liked all the wall lamps in Oda Mae Brown’s parlor.  Collaboration between projections, lighting, and video was outstanding.  Hugh Vanstone was the lighting designer. Credits include: La Bete, A Steady Rain, and God of Carnage.

Video & Projection: Video was critical due to the extensive use of video walls as set walls.  Very well done and totally appropriate in nearly all cases.  Many were transparent video walls so you could see through them into other rooms/parts of the set.  I had read in a PLSN review that the LED video walls were overall too bright for the theatrical setting and hence running on the very low end of the brightness settings.  Makes sense when you think that most video displays are designed as a primary visual element (concerts, signs, outdoor, etc), not a set element.  But on occasion you could see visible stepping as a bright image would fade out.  This didn’t happen often, and as noted above, probably could not be avoided.  Too bad there are not dimmer LED displays specific for a theatrical set application, but the market is no doubt too small for such a low production volume display.  Projections were also used often, usually as part of the ghost illusions.  These illusions looked to be based most often on the Pepper’s Ghost Illusion pioneered long ago.   The only real downside was the obvious placemet of glass surfaces for the Pepper’s Ghose effect to be done.   But artfully done worked well with the story and acting.   Another projection effect of note was Sam (the ghost) moving on.  That appeared to be a projection on a jet of fog or CO2, and frankly a little too cheezy based on the hype I had read prior to going to the show.  But the audience seemed to like it.  I was more pleased with the artistry of front projection dots/stars on the two leads during the most intimate scene in the show. You’ve seen this from publicity shots, and it’s the image at the top of this blog entry.  Jon Driscoll was the video & projection designer. Credits include: Frost/Nixon, Brief Encounter, and Dirty Dancing national tour.

Sound: Very effective sound.  Some wireless mic issues plagued the production several times in the performance, which was surprising given the top shelf, top dollar gear I would presume was available to a broadway show.  But anytime wireless is involved, it can be problematic for anyone, including Broadway shows.  And imagine how difficult it is to find a clear frequency in NYC.  Only Vegas would I imagine is worse.  Bobby Aitken was the sound designer. Credits include: Momma Mia!, We will Rock You, and Flashdance.

Bottom line: Nice show with oustanding lighting and video/projections.  I’m very glad we went.  Unfortunately the show closed on Aug 18th, 2012 not long after we were there.

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