A few years ago in Los Angeles, Chevy Chase saw the same production of A Christmas Carol (above) that we had last night in Popejoy Hall. After the show, he asked the company how the bed moved. In that production, the bed transports Scrooge to his past, present and future. The crew, not wishing to divulge any secrets, said “Christmas magic.”
So many theater companies spend a lot of time and creative energy on trying to make what happens on stage appear to be magical. Part of the appeal of spectacular shows like The Phantom of the Opera or Wicked is the scenic magic. How many people who have seen Les Miserables talk about the spectacle of the barricade and the revolving stage?
A few years ago, I was working on a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum for Musical Theatre Southwest. The script called for a revolving door at the center of the set. I asked the designer, Stanley Olivarez, to give us a two-panel revolve rather than a three- or four-panel door, a fortuitous choice.
One night in rehearsal, we were working out a sequence where the lead character, Pseudolus, had to to lose three soldiers ordered to follow him. We were down to the last one, which we lost by having Pseudolus go in and out of the revolving door, followed closely by the soldier. On his last time out the door, Pseudolus stopped the door. You heard the thump of the soldier as he hit the door but he never came through. Pseudolus peeked in to conform that the soldier was out like a light.
One of the actors said, “Wouldn’t it be great if, when Pseudolus opened the door again, he found the soldier smashed against the door like Wile E. Coyote?” Ding!
We went back to Stanley. He loved the idea and made it possible for our soldier to hang on the door as though he’d been flattened like a bug. And he hung there for several more entrances and exits, appearing every other time the door opened. It was a tremendously funny idea that delighted the audience every night.
In one of my screenwriting classes, Matt MacDuffie taught us to “give the audience the ending they want, just not in the way they expect it.” Which pretty well sums up theatrical magic, doesn’t it? Who expects a soldier plastered against a door? Who expects a bed to move?
On the eve of Christmas, on the cusp of a new year, I wish you all a little magic in your lives. And if you don’t come across it anywhere else, you might try the theater.
Terry S. Davis