All praise Bob Crowley

In my final discussion of the shows I saw in New York last week, I’d like to simply honor the extraordinary work of Bob Crowley, who until recently, was best known as the go-to guy for mind-blowing production design.

I had three Crowley experiences: Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia, Part Two: Shipwrecked, Disney’s Mary Poppins and Disney’s Tarzan, which Crowley also directed.

In each of these shows, even the talky Stoppard play (the middle part of a trilogy at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre), Crowley’s work is what makes the biggest impression.

Walking out of the theater after Shipwreck (when I ran into former San Francisco playwright Adam Bock – New York is such a small town), I could tell you I saw actors Jennifer Ehle, Brian F. O’Byrne, Jason Butler Harner, Ethan Hawke and Amy Irving do some interesting things, but they sort of all ran together in a mish-mash of Russians expounding on philosophical, romantic and political themes. But I won’t soon forget the images by Crowley (working here with Scott Pask): a stunning, forced-perspective view down the Champs d’Elysees; a demolished post-riot white marble statue; a gaudy chandelier and a man sitting deep in thought in the middle of a raging sea.

For Mary Poppins (at the New Amsterdam Theatre), a stage adaptation of one of my favorite movies of all time, Crowley rendered the Banks household as a giant dollhouse with the front cut away so we can see into bedrooms, offices, the basement kitchen and the attic nursery. He also throws in a gorgeous watercolor park (for the “Jolly Holiday” number), giant demonic toys (for the new song “Temper, Temper”), an enormous umbrella full of stars (another new song, “Anything Can Happen”) and, of course, the rooftops of London – coo, what a sight.

Mary Poppins does some impressive flying (and Bert the chimney sweep creates the show’s only real magic when he tap dances all the way around the proscenium), but for some intense flying, check out Crowley’s Tarzan at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

On an inflated jungle set full of cubby holes and spongy rope serving as foliage, Crowley creates a show unhampered by gravity. With the help of aerial expert Pichon Baldinu and choreographer Meryl Tankard, actors playing gorillas and Josh Strickland, playing Tarzan, don’t spend much time on the ground.

I didn’t love any of the above shows, but Crowley’s work (he also designed the costumes for Poppins and Tarzan) dazzles. If you’re going to have epic shows in which the show itself is the star of the show, you can’t do any better than Bob Crowley.

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  1. Pingback: Chad Jones 39 Theater Dogs All praise Bob Crowley | garden statues

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