Hello Dolly! is a classic American musical detailing the amusing manipulations of Dolly, a matchmaker, as she attempts to pair up young lovers while also securing a new husband for herself.
As a golden age musical from 1964, Dolly is characterized by its huge ensemble numbers, dance breaks and larger-than-life emotions and slapstick humor. For the class project, I was tasked with designing Dolly the Minskoff Theatre in New York City using the original scenic designs by Oliver Smith. This required not only taking on a big musical in a foreign space, but one that had a sensibility to it that I am too young to have witnessed. In 1964, there was no LED lighting, no wireless dimming capability and much lower electric capacity as a whole. Thus, the scenery is crafted and painted according to those limitations. I took our new technology and power loads and retro-fitted them to a vintage aesthetic.
There is a patented look to the golden age musical, and it was against my instinct to change the formula on Dolly. However, my penchant for color also guided me to consider where to push saturation and where to stick to a classic palette. Delicate, hand-painted backdrops were lit by older, incandescent strip lights to preserve true color and nuance while the ensemble was lit by a combination of ellipsoidal fixtures and LED washes. The idea behind this was that I could rely on ETC Source Fours, Pars and fresnels (all incandescent or tungsten filament fixtures) to provide a sense of natural warmth and clarity to what would surely be dazzling and colorful costumes and lean into LED lighting to revitalize and color big dance numbers or soft, romantic moments.
Something I kept telling myself during this process was that someone in 1964 designed this with half the lights, half the electric power and perhaps a third of the technology I have access to today. Still, it was difficult to process all the drops flying in and out, scenery rolling on and off, different levels, times of day, locations, emotional influence, practical fixtures, time period and all this not even accounting for the songs which form the piece. Dolly taught me to design like it is 1964: finding the bare minimum with the most basic tool so that the entire piece is functional. Then, when the design has wheels I can begin to go back in and add what makes the design my own: color, texture and adjustment of angle. What is most important is that every possible problem the script brings is headed off at the pass. This makes everything that comes next much simpler.
Copyright 2015 Alex Casillas