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Flash Review 2, 12-18: Crew Dance
Magical 'Boheme' Transforms Techies into Movers

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- Baz Luhrmann's exhilarating Broadway production of Puccini's opera, "La Boheme," seen December 11 at the Broadway Theatre, offers many things. It's visually magical, thanks to Catherine Martin's ingenious production design. It contemporizes opera by casting good-looking, accomplished young singers and setting the modern jargon surtitles in fonts more akin to comic books than those found at the Met. One thing it pretty much doesn't offer, however, is...dance.

Not to say that there is no movement. Half of the show takes place in the Parisian garret of the poet Rodrigo, hidden behind a giant, illuminated red sign reading "L'amour." (It resembles the poet's atelier in Luhrmann's film, "Moulin Rouge.") Act Three is set at the French border, all gray and snowy, featuring another seedy apartment. But the second act, set in the Left Bank's Cafe Momus, pulls out all the stops. Martin, with lighting designer Nigel Levings, strung lights up and over the proscenium top all the way to the Easter egg on the ceiling, lit only in this act. Brothels sat to the right and left of the proscenium; we could vaguely see some activity through gauze-curtained windows. Bawdy patrons burst in and out of the cafe, evoking the atmosphere in the artworks by one of Luhrmann's inspirations, Toulouse-Lautrec. A marching band followed children on scooters, parading on the catwalk perched above the orchestra pit, ending with an explosion of streamers which underscored the stage's rich dimensionality. There was so much activity that it was impossible to take it all in and read the surtitles. The effect was like blowing up a balloon and watching it grow to immense circumference.

However, the most surprising and intriguing choreography came from an unexpected group. The stagehands and production crew were visible at all times, so we observed them making the magic happen in full view. The simplest effect took on an added dimension, as when a stagehand held two small spots on the leads and jiggled them a little to create reflected, flickering light from fireplace flames. The most complex of the crew's actions was moving the large set pieces, which resembled ships passing one another in a busy harbor, narrowly avoiding collisions. The crew's movements had to be quick, economical, and accurate, fundamentals required by dancers as well. Not only did it involve the crew more in the production, it allowed for relatively long set changes to become part of the entertainment, a winning combination.

The leads who performed on December 11 were Alfred Boe (Rodolfo) and Wei Huang (Mimi) one of three pairs who rotate shows, and Ben Davis (Marcello) and Jessica Comeau (Musetta), who rotate with another pair. The rest of the tribe is rounded out by Daniel Webb (Colline) and Daniel Okulitch (Schaunard). Costumes were designed by Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie; sound by Acme Sound Partners. Music director/principal conductor was Constantine Kitsopoulos.

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