Most New Yorkers hate pigeons. But step into the latest display at the Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and you may change your tune. Built out of Broadway Playbills and West End Programmes, a flock of metaphoric pigeons ushers visitors into Curtain Up!, a celebration of 40 years of London’s Olivier Awards and 70 years of Manhattan’s Tony Awards.
Winning an Olivier or a Tony is no small accomplishment, but productions that have earned trophies on both sides of the Atlantic are a rarer species. Designed by Tom Piper and RFK Architects as a collaboration between Britain’s Victoria and Albert Museum, The Society of London Theatre, and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the interactive Curtain Up! exhibit spotlights the shows, stars, creatives and designs that have won both of the theatre’s most coveted awards through presentations of original costumes, hand-drawn design sketches, preserved set models, video footage of the iconic productions, and an overload of theatre trivia that could bowl over any fan.
Here are 11 items to look out for on your (free!) visit to the exhibit, open now through June 30.
1. Original Costume Sketches by Maria Björnson
The installation features five of Maria Björnson’s drawings, including fabric swatches and her notes and instructions. For example, in Act II the Phantom emerges from the cross on the Daae tomb, and Björnson notes on the corresponding costume blueprint: “skull stick to be recharged every night.” Who knew?
2. Michael Crawford’s “Masquerade” Costume and Mask from Phantom
Turn your face towards the glass case that houses the full “Masquerade” Phantom costume. The heavy ensemble the Phantom wears at the top of Act II and the first-ever mask, molded to fit original Phantom Michael Crawford’s face, are on view, as well.
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3. Letter from Hal Prince to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice About Evita
In 1976, director Hal Prince saw Evita for the first time as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were working on the show. After his viewing, Prince prepared comments for the team. “These are my comments based on one viewing,” Prince writes. “I have tried to include everything that occurs to me, without regard for your feelings, because we start work in Vienna on Wednesday and will be involved with film until November, so there will be no proper time to get to know you.” You’ll have to visit the exhibit to read Princes’ lauds and constructive criticisms of the “fascinating project.”
4. Costume Bible for Ain’t Misbehavin’
Many designers create a book complete with all of the costume designs, inks, and details for a single show known as the “bible.” Visitors can see the colorful concepts for Ain’t Misbehavin’.
5. The Tonys and Oliviers: Side by Side
Throughout the museum, facts and figures about both awards pepper the walls. From the comparisons of the theatre communities—did you know that London shows are typically dark on Sundays, but Broadway shows are typically dark Mondays?—to the stars who hold the most awards, the knowledge embedded in the exhibit is enough to thrill the most informed theatre-lovers.
6. Stage Manager’s Script for Cats
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, now back on Broadway, enjoyed phenomenal success on both sides of the pond. The show involves numerous cues to create the magic of the junkyard, and that relies on the calls of the stage manager. Read through the SM’s script to get a sense of the minute details audiences would never know.
7. A Chorus Line Corridor
As you shuffle through the exhibit, you’ll hear “Name!” as director Zach addresses the auditioners of A Chorus Line. Mirrors line the walls of the hallway to give guests the feeling of the dance audition room (and the famous backdrop to “Music and the Mirror”). Stand at the ballet barre below six original golden top hats as you watch the archival video from the musical that won seven Tonys and the Olivier for Best New Musical.
8. Hand-Crafted Set Models
A smattering of original set models, on loan from their designers, fill the space of Curtain Up! But pay close attention to Bob Crowley’s miniature for Carousel. This may be the original model, but the figurines are new. "When we [the exhibition team] were in London, Bob Crowley, the original designer, felt the model needed figures to demonstrate the scale of the set,” says Doug Reside, exhibition co-curator and curator of the Theatre Division at the Library. “He went home and came back the next day with a miniature Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow, which we now have in the exhibition.”
9. Note from Ian McKellen to His Understudy in Amadeus
Sir Ian McKellen played the role of Salieri in the Broadway production of Amadeus. When McKellen needed to call out, he wrote a letter to his understudy with advice about the role.
10. The Sound Board from Hairspray
If you ever wondered what it would be like to mix sound during a live performance of a show, this is as close as you’ll get. Step up to the sound board and use the iPad to control levels of the voices and instrumentals on the recording of Hairspray’s “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
11. The Lion King Costumes and Masks
Be prepared… to be wowed. The full Rafiki, Mufasa, and Sarabi garb—and the masks for Scar, Simba, and Nala—are even more impressive in person than on the stage. But perhaps most exciting is the backdrop of the blazing sun. “There are a few differences between what was displayed in this exhibition when it was at the V&A, and what’s on display here at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts,” Caitlin Whittington, graphic and exhibition designer for The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. “I knew I wanted to feature some materials from Disney's The Lion King, because the show is still such a huge presence on Broadway. Disney was kind enough to loan us many materials from the show. But my favorite part is the large sun. We found this piece while reviewing artifacts with the Disney team. It had been used in the exhibition Inside The Lion King, which was in Bryant Park in 2012. We knew it would really make a great impact in the exhibition, but it needed some serious repairs before it was ready for the spotlight again. Thankfully, Disney generously and skillfully restored it!”
See more photos from inside the museum: