Stage Designs of Richard Finkelstein

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Richard Finkelstein
630 Stonewall Dr
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
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Set Design and Lighting Design by R. Finkelstein

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A Tale of Cinderella

Rendering of the scenic design for The New York State Theatre Institute's production of A Tale of Cinderella. The Design is by Richard Finkelstein. The original cast album is available on Atlantic Records and the video is  available on Warner Home Video. The Video version has won awards at The Chicago International Film Festival and Worldfest-Charleston, and was broadcast on many PBS stations, March, 1998. In May, 1998, the musical title was a clue in The New York Times Crossword Puzzle (you know you've made it when . . .). In the spring of 2001, an expanded edition of the musical toured to major venues in New York State from Sheas' Theatre in Buffalo to The Danny Kaye Playhouse in New York City. Depicted below are the design rendering followed by three production photos.

A Tale of Cinderella set design by Richard Finkelstein
  A Tale of Cinderella set design by Richard Finkelstein
White models


Description of the Settings:

The setting is a simple one, only made more complex in scale and geometries. At the rear of the stage is a drop depicting Venice, and specifically the Duke’s Palace. In it’s latest incarnation, the drop was a dye-painted translucency measuring 30'-0" in height by 90'-0" in width. Set against this drop are a series of buildings forming the interesting silhouettes of Venice. These structures include a domestic building, down left, with a working 2nd story window. A series of steps and bridges moves from up center, off up right and left. A gondola moves in the canal under the up-left bridge, past a building that resembles the lacy quality of a wedding cake.

Balancing the stage left buildings is the home of Cinderella’s father. This is built on a turntable, so as to serve for both exterior and interior scenes. The house is a two story structure with the balcony connecting to the bridges of the Venice set and with escape stairs at various rotational positions.

Cinderella’s kitchen within the interior portion of the setting has a number of magical elements. The fireplace is designed so that the fairy godmother can appear magically (through the wonders of scrim and illusionary geometry) from within the chimney, seemingly disjointed from her legs. The glass slippers too appear from within the fire of the fireplace. At another point of the action, the fairy godmother appears from within the stone of the down left building.

In the original edition, these elements formed the complete set, which also played on a raked stage. The rake helped to make the transition between outside Cinderella’s house and inside an easy one. Action could thus easily spill off the house platform as more room was required. The rake also afforded a logical way to provide for the canal in which the gondola ran on tracks. The original design was also customized to exactly fill the proscenium in the originating venue.

For the tour, the backdrop had been greatly enlarged as had various other pieces. To allow for the widest variety of proscenium widths, a multi-part Italianate portal was designed and fabricated. Additional Venetian building elements were provided to help extend the stage picture off right as well with the larger venues.

The rake was eliminated in this edition and replaced by a series of steps around the perimeter of the main setting, and a ground-cloth was prepared with the fan-design cobble-stone pattern.

This pattern of stones came from the second of three editions of the design. Between the original edition, and the touring edition, the set was re-designed for the Warner video production. The coloration of the scenery was brought more within a closer range while being boosted somewhat in chroma. Before this the cobble-stones were in a linear pattern. For the video I opted to go with the radial geometry so that shots from different angles would better match. To allow for more room for choreography, the apron of the stage was enlarged as was the kitchen area.

I was also engaged for the video, to design some of the matte elements for post production and the resulting combination rendering/matte-painting was adapted into the basis of the rendering depicted in this portfolio.

In all versions, additional elements were flown in for the ball and wedding scenes. These included a palace drop made from layers of scrim-like materials and cut muslin to allow for two story action within the columns arches and windows. Performers were able to use the balcony of the house which was directly behind the palace drop at these points. In the tour edition, swags of flowers overhead completed the picture.

Conceptual Foundations:

It was really exciting to work so directly with the playwright as well as the producer/director on this piece. They really took a very fresh look at otherwise tired material, ending up with something new, unique, and exciting. The romantic and fantasy elements are still here, but in this version, a strong foundation in dramaturgical reality is provided. Answered in this version are the questions that dog other versions such as: If the step mother is so bad, why did the father marry her? Or: Where did Cinderella’s REAL mother go?

In this version the action was moved to Venice for many many related reasons. First it helps greatly to explain the situation. In this edition, the father is a merchant, owning a fleet of ships. This takes him away from home frequently. On one of these voyages, Cinderella’s mother passes away at home while the father is gone. Later the scheme places the father away from home allowing room for the evil deeds of the step mother. Venice of course is also a center of glass arts, of course related to the magic of the glass slipper. And...when we think of a ball, the best of balls is to be found in the carnivals of Venice.

The element of water becomes important, not only in representing Venice, but in the various references in this script to cooking and the magic fluids of life (and food!). In each of our editions the water motif has had greater expression, most wonderfully within the translucent effects of the dye drop.

This edition of the production doubles the romantic plots. While the traditional Cinderella/Prince romance is maintained, an additional relationship is created between Cinderella’s god-mother and a parallel god-father of the Prince. It is almost as though there is a geometry of romance in this edition to parallel the classical architectures of this magical city.

Fluid motion is important in this production. The recording has almost double the number of song titles as in most musical scores. The town square is always a flurry of actions from the townspeople representing all classes and cultures. I wanted to provided a scenic metaphor to match. In this setting all the set changes flow without any stop in action. People come and go in the gondola as the house rotates, or the palace flies in. It is a particularly beautiful moment when all this happens together with the music, lighting, and choreography.

Last, in this version, Cinderella and her relationships have a much higher degree of relevant reality. This is NOT a woman "waiting her prince to come". This Cinderella is a woman of action and morals, who knows herself and what is right. She is gritty and not afraid to be affirmative in her actions. The is NOT a fairy tale figure in this edition.

Given this new and improved Cinderella character, I opted to not move too much into the fairy-land motif with the scenery. In this regard, moving instead into a more operatic interpretation worked well. I took my images and forms from paintings of Venice.

Comments From the Press:

Buffalo News, The. Kunz, Mary. 4/27/2001. "'A Tale of Cinderella', a dreamy musical playing through Sunday at Shea's Performing Arts Center, is set in Venice. And a beautiful Venice it is! The sky is a deep twilight blue, the square ringed with lanterns. Footbridges cross a canal, and rooftops appear in the background."

Backstage. Stimac, Elias. 5/25/2001. "The technical artists are all in prime form here as well with Richard Finkelstein's versatile setting . . ."

Metroland. Hammann, Ralph. 12/27/1995. "True, Richard Finkelstein's elegant medley of arches and soft walls isn't overproduced, as is the current fashion on Broadway. But I'll bet patrons would find its simplicity welcoming and exploring for two hours."