It’s easy to look at the six animatronic puppets and the iconic Rockettes and get lost in the spectacle of the new Radio City Music Hall show “Heart and Lights.”
But the work of playwright Doug Wright is quintessential to holding the show together. Opening April 3 at Radio City Music Hall, “Heart and Lights” follows two cousins are they explore their grandmother’s past in New York City. Along the way, they’ll encounter — and interact — with some of the most famous locations are the Big Apple, like the lions at the Public Library and the Statue of Liberty.
amNewYork spoke with Wright about the show.
What was the genesis of the story?
Well it’s really [director and choregrapher] Linda Haberman’s brainchild and she knew she wanted to create a kind of spectacular valentine to the city of New York. And so she started to conceive a series of large-scale numbers based around aspects of New York City that we all love, like the beauty of Grand Central Station and the majesty of the Empire State Building and of course Lady Liberty. And then she gave me these numbers essentially, the way you might give a quilter a bunch of colorful, beautiful patches of fabric, and she said “Stitch these together in a way that will entertain audiences and take them on a thrilling New York City journey.” So working in close consultation with her, that’s what I did. I’d bring in ideas and suggest ‘Maybe this is a way we can unite all those numbers in a story.’
Is the technology work challenging? Freeing?
It’s pretty exhilarating, I have to admit. I mean, usually as a playwright in the New York theater, you’re told “Don’t make it more than a single set and five characters or you’re doomed.” And here we have the world’s largest LED screen, these remarkable puppets that are operated by the best puppeteers across the globe, we have costumes that are eye-popping, and so, for a writer, it’s like being a true kid in a candy store
What’s your favorite puppet?
Oh man! Well you’re a step ahead of me because I haven’t had the thrill of seeing Lady Liberty yet. I’ve just seen the other puppets and I would have to say right now I’m especially in love with the New York [Public] Library lions Patience and fortitude.
How long have you lived in New York City?
I came here in 1985 to go to graduate school, so I have been here 30 years or so and I still cannot walk down the street sometimes, especially in Time Square, without pinching myself and saying ‘Wow you made it here all the way from Texas.’
When did you really feel like a New Yorker?
Oh, what a great question. You know, this might be a sort of backward answer, but I think when I went to visit my family in Dallas, Texas, and felt like a tourist. And that just told me in my soul that New York was truly home. This might sound a little over the top, but also, when my first play opened on Broadway, I thought ‘This anchors me here now forever because this is where I achieved a dream.’ And I think that that sort of instantly makes it your home.
Much of this show is about what it takes to make it in New York. What do you think it takes to make it in New York?
Oh wow, I think it takes phenomenal drive and fearless tenacity and also perhaps strangely, generosity of spirit because if you can make the lives of other people a little bit better, they’ll help advance your own. I think those three things are the most crucial things that you need.