×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Drones Make Theater, Not War in Broadway ‘Paramour’

In Cirque du Soleil’s first Broadway show, “Paramour,” it’s not just the acrobats who take flight. It’s the lampshades.

In a romantic moment when two characters declare their feelings for each others, their love gets a visual expression when an octet of circular lampshades rise into the air and execute airborne choreography. Turns out they’re not lampshades at all — they’re drones.

It’s tech more closely associated with warfare and paparazzi, and the use of it onstage marks a first both for Broadway and for Cirque. It also stands as one small manifestation of Cirque’s broader mission statement on Broadway: combining the bones of traditional musical theater with the nouveau-circus stagecraft for which the brand is known. That means high-flying acrobatics, a distinctive musical vocabulary and the kind of envelope-pushing scenery, makeup and technical elements that audiences haven’t seen before — like those flying machines.

“This kind of thing is almost expected when you buy a ticket to a Cirque du Soleil show,” said Scott Zeiger, president and managing director of Cirque du Soleil Theatrical. “For the three minutes they’re watching those lampshades, the audience is witnessing a $500,000 moment. They may love it or they may hate it, but they can’t see it anywhere else on Broadway.”

The overall production costs of “Paramour,” a love triangle set in Hollywood’s golden age, rings in at $25 million, which is expensive for Broadway but cheap for Cirque. That half-million lampshade moment aims to translate an intimate character beat into an unexpected visual motif, magical enough to fill the Lyric, a 1,900-seat venue that Broadway types often describe as “cavernous.”

The sequence grew out of an earlier, experimental collaboration between Cirque and Zurich-based Verity Studios, who together tested the creative potential of flying machines in a 2014 video segment posted to YouTube, “Sparked.” As in the “Paramour” number, the sequence is performed by autonomous flying machines that, according to Verity’s Raffaello D’Andrea, follow pre-programmed choreography but make their own decisions based on their relation to each other and where they are in space.

“It would be impossible for human beings to pilot these machines to do what you’re seeing, in terms of unison, timing, and choreography,” he said.

There were plenty of challenges in getting those machines to the stage. For one thing, there was tech to be adapted for flying indoors without the aid of GPS, and lighting design had to be modulated so that their flight would read for audiences members all the way at the back of the house. Then there was the fire department to contend with.

“It’s pretty rare that you have to have the fire marshal come to approve a number in your show that doesn’t involve fire,” Zeiger said. The marshal, in fact, nixed the original plan of having one or more of the machines fly out over the audience.

But with the all those hurdles overcome, the drones now perform eight times a week in a number that aims to imbue the mundane with a little wonder. “A lampshade is an everyday object,” D’Andrea said. “To see them fly, it’s like magic.” (The engineer-artist added that similar tech could be used onstage any time creatives want to move something in an arbitrary way in 3D space.)

The cutting-edge sequence is just one part of a production that aims to stand out on Broadway by meshing to legit musical tradition with the daredevilry and technological elements so closely associated with Cirque. “Paramour” has already made a mark at the box office, posting major numbers since it began previews April 16 — but it remains to be seen whether the production will make its mark with theater critics too. The show opens at the Lyric tonight.

 

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content