Behind the scenes at Radio City's high-tech 'Heart and Lights'
Puppets on the theatrical stage, while fun and cool, aren't a major technological marvel. But a 26-foot tall animatronic Statue of Liberty looking around and talking on stage? That's what you call high-tech theater.
Beginning previews on March 27, "Heart and Lights" is the new spectacle heading to Radio City Music Hall featuring the Rockettes and a slew of technological attractions never put on stage before.
"Every number has a 'wow' moment," says Larry Sedwick, senior vice president for MSG Entertainment. "There is a little trick, special effect technology, everything from the costume -- some of them have 152 LEDs built into every costume -- to the GPS technology in Central Park where we're going to have kites actually flying out over the audience, to huge automation with LED walls moving at [The Metropolitan Museum of Art], where pictures come to life as LED walls move all over. Every scene has magic."
Besides Lady Liberty, other puppets include the Wall Street bull, the New York Public Library Lions, Alice in Wonderland and Andy Warhol.
Making The Statue of Liberty come to life was no small feat.
Murray Rogers, controls manger for The Creature Technology Company, which has devised animatronics for shows such as "Walking With Dinosaurs" and the upcoming "King Kong" production coming to Broadway in December, headed up the creation of the giant-sized puppet.
Rogers says it took 20 motors in her face and three motorized cylinders moving her head. And that's just the electronics. The body is made of two inflatable sections that are draped and sculpted to look like the real statue, with a scenic artist coming in to put on the finishing touches, like the copper panels and tons of rivets.
Besides the vast work to build these puppets, there's also the challenge of bringing them to life. Radio City partnered with some of New York's cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Met, said Doug Wright, the shows playwright, to help teach him the history of these buildings.
"[That] steeped me in the ambience of each of those landmarks," he says. "It's made it so much easier to sort of think of these landmarks, not as the great awe-inspiring structures that they are, but almost as anthropomorphic characters in a story."
The show, which has been in production for five years, is the brainchild of director and choreographer Linda Haberman, who "wanted to create a kind of spectacular valentine to the city of New York," says Wright, who isresponsible for shows and films such as "I Am My Own Wife," "Quills," "The Little Mermaid" and "Grey Gardens."
"She started to conceive a series of large-scale numbers based around aspects of New York City that we all love, ," Wright says. The story follows two cousins exploring the Big Apple, looking to discover their grandmother's secret past. This is told with eight large production numbers featuring the Rockettes, Sedwick says. And along the way, they'll visit some of the city's inconic locations.
And one of the bonuses of working with puppets, Wright says, is "they say their lines perfectly, their expressions are always immaculate, they get every laugh. Puppets are the best."
"I said 'I'm never going to work with flesh and blood actors again,'" Wright says with a laugh. "And I'm saying that firmly with my tongue in my cheek. I love actors, but it was really fun to watch those puppets land those jokes."
But it's no joke that "Heart and Lights" is not just for those visiting the city.
"We worked very hard to stay true to New York, to not just be a tourist attraction," Sedwick says. "We really have a bunch of New Yorkers working on this and all of us have been very excited and a little bit scared by that challenge. But we have tried to stay true to that and, touch that little bit of us, all us New Yorkers and go 'Oh yea, that's why I'm here, that's why I love New York.'"
The show opens on April 3 and runs for five weeks, closing on May 4. The show is 90 minutes with no intermission.
The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns amNewYork.