a theatre, film & pop culture review
Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.
No matter your opinion of the rest of the show, the area in which Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson manages absolute perfection is design. Donyale Werle (assisted by Justin Towsend’s lighting) decked out the Jacobs theater in a Williamsburg-hipster-mix of modern and nineteenth-century decor: the largely wooden designed is framed by velvety blood-red curtains; endless strings of twinkling Christmas lights and sparkling chandeliers hang throughout; elaborately framed portraits and deer heads adorn walls, while a stuffed horse hangs from the ceiling. While critics have argued the emo-rock satire’s success in transferring uptown from The Public Theater, there is little argument that the highlight of this show is its over-the-top lush design — the irreverent vibe is palpable the moment you walk through the door.
I admit I’m being a bit cheeky by listing The Scottsboro Boys second-best, but I’ve already revealed my inclination toward the minimal, and Beowulf Boritt’s design is so much so, it’s barely existent (he’s also to be credited for the poetic disjointedness of The Last Five Years‘s elegant design). Borrit simply offers up a handful of straight-back chairs and a few planks to director Susan Stroman’s vivid imagination. From there, the chairs are starkly arranged to create death row, a bus that transports the nine boys from jail to the courthouse, and of course, the semi-circle of the minstrel show, bookended by the Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo. This is a clear case of a hugely director-influenced design, and if anyone is to be awarded for Scottsboro, it’s Stroman, not Boritt.
If there’s an upset in this category, it’ll be in favor of the accomplished Scott Pask, Tony winner for The Coast of Utopia and The Pillowman, and one of the busiest Broadway designers this season (Elling, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, The House of Blue Leaves). Comically incorporateing old-fashioned backcloths and painted flats, Pask created three distinct worlds for The Book of Mormon: a squeaky-clean Utah town, a hilariously impoverished Ugandan village and the cartoonish biblical world of All-American Prophet Joseph Smith.
Just as accomplished (Tony winner for 33 Variations) and busy this Broadway season (How to Succeed and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo) is Derek McLane. For Anything Goes, he created a huge art deco ocean liner with a set of rooms that fly on and off the stage. Unfortunately, this musical comedy doesn’t allow for much design innovation, and his set, while competent, looks like every other revival of the Cole Porter classic. You can definitely count McLane out of this race.