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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All-Time Good-Time Knickerbocker Follies

This new musical was designed for The New York State Theatre Institute by Richard Finkelstein.

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(models of the scenery)


(Production Photo of Act I scrims)

(Floor design as painted for the production)



  • Book by: Hugh Wheeler
  • Lighting: Richard Nelson
  • Director: Pat Birch
  • Costume Designers: Patritzia Von Brandenstein, Robert Anton, Fred Voelpel, Sally Whitmore, Karen Kammer
  • Composer: Joe Raposo
  • Performers: Larry Kert, Lynnie Godfrey, Jack Gilford, Sandman Sims...


"The Amazing Sandow"
The All-Time Good-Time Knickerbocker Follies
by Hugh Wheeler, Ralph Allen et. al.

This particular scene was conceived and described by Peter Foy of
Flying by Foy.

This is but one of about 17 different scenes that demonstrate the technical scope of this show that strived to re-create the ambiance of Vaudeville and the pageantry of early musical theatre

If the scene I am about to describe had been presented around the turn of the century, with the music available that is available to us today, it would be presented thusly:

In the darkness of the theatre our ears awaken to the plaintive soprano tones of "One Fine Day," which we instantly recognize as the aria from Madam Butterfly. The curtains slowly open, and that magical invention, the limelight, picks up our lovely soloist, a vision in white chiffon, surrounded by her court of multicolored butterflies. The music changes imperceptibly to "Poor Butterfly"; our soloist moves sensuously from the Tableau and we notice that her arms extend into graceful butterfly wings. As she flutters around the stage these wings grow longer and longer, and by the time she reaches her final pose, they completely cover the Tableau. But, will wonders never cease -- the tableau rises majestically above the outstretched wings, forming spectacular swoops and synchronized somersaults, "The Aerial Ballet" entertains us with their beauty and daring high in the loft of the theatre. Finally they create a triumphal arch the music matches the mood -- and through this arch enters the strongest man in the world . . . "The Amazing Sandow." He is accompanied by two assistants. They commence to sing that patriotic little ditty . . . Drink your milk three times a day Love your Mom, and the U.S.A. Wave the Flag, eat Apple Pie And you will be as strong as I.

. . . the song continues, all 17 verses of it, whilst Sandow performs his truly unbelievable feats of strength, finishing with what is perhaps his most under-rated presentation wherein he balances one assistant on his index finger, the other on his big toe -- whilst filling the theatre with his magnificent voice, as he reaches for, and finally attains a note seldom heard outside the opera halls of Europe. As the music swells to fill the theatre, Sandow is joined by a bevy of bustled beauties daringly attired in white tights, high-heeled boots, and gold-braided shocking-pink corsets. Two young ladies at each end of the line appear to be accomplished musicians, as one with drums, and the other with triangle, join in what has become a finale march. However -- not to be outdone, the other young ladies turn to us in profile, and we realize that they have xylophones cunningly affixed to their backs. The orchestra softens to permit them a tuneful interlude (rather like the tinkling of bells) then rejoins them for a rousing finale that would make Sousa proud to be an American. The curtain descends just in time to save us from being completely overwhelmed for all of the above has only taken four minutes!



All-Time Good-Time Knickerbocker Follies
(scenery design)


I have included the designs of this extravaganza as it is the largest project I have worked on. The original musical production was conceived as a re-dedication of the $100,000,000 "Egg" theatre in The Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY. The opening was in coordination with the dedication of the dedication at the base of the theatre, of New York State’s music hall of fame and the production was coordinated with New York’s Harvest of Music festival which featured 1,000 performers on 7 stages surrounding the theatre.

So from the start, this production, funded in part by The National Endowment for the Arts, was conceived as a true gala production. Many of theatre’s greatest living artists were brought together to produce this work. The team of writers, directors, choreographers included:

  • Hugh Wheeler (who wrote the book for many Sondheim musicals)

  • Ralph Allen (who had earlier written the musical Sugar Babies)

  • Patricia Birch (Veteran director/choreographer of stage, film, and television)

  • Joe Raposo (co-founder of Sessame Street, composer for Frank Sinatra et. al.)

  • Francis and Paul Sackett (of The New York City Ballet)

  • Peter Foy (known mostly for his flying effects, Peter also wrote a portion of the show)

Other designers on the production included:


  • Richard Nelson (who won the Tony Award that year for lighting Into the Woods)

  • Patrizia von Brandenstein (winner of the Academy Award for Amadeus)

  • Sally Whitmore (sister of James, Sally was a fashion designer active in the 1930s)

  • Marsha Ek (veteran of Broadway and The New York City Opera)

Performers included

  • Jack Gilford (veteran of vaudeville, Broadway, film, and Television)

  • Larry Kert (of West Side Story and Company fame)

  • Bob McGrath (of Sesame Street)

  • Orson Bean

  • Sandman Sims



The scenery for this production was multi-layered and rather complex. When the audience entered the space, they saw the theatre proscenium framed on each side with depictions of musical theatre sheet music. These would later turn into projection surfaces through mechanical means. The floor was painted in a light reactive manner to resemble a giant golden flower. Otherwise, the stage at the start of the production was bare. Backstage equipment, lighting, etc. was fully visible. As the overture was ending, stage hands rolled two trunks onto the stage. From these trunks a group of performers emerged, soon joined by others.

As the opening number progressed, a lavish music hall was "built" out of nothingness right before the audience’ eyes. First some odd-shaped flats rolled on. The performers moved these in formation as in a Busby Berkely number. Large depictions of sheet music and theatre posters then flew in as backdrop to the action. At a key moment, the rolling flat units were turned around to reveal sinewy golden plaster architectural elements. The units moved into formation as a triumphal arch through which the show’s star entered (Jack Guilford the first year and Orson Bean the next).

The rolling units next parted and moved to the side of the stage as golden sculptural elements flew in from above. Together these flying and rolling units joined to form a series of portals.

In such ways, every scenic element was made to transform in one way or another. The backdrop poster panels were all painted on scrim, the central one, to include it’s own portal framing. Performers and other elements could be revealed through the scrim. Each panel also included a rear-projection screen so that projection elements could also appear through the dissolving scrim elements. The panels themselves could all fly out to reveal the full cyc or blackout curtain.

Many individual elements could be introduced into this environment. A show curtain with the production’s name within a gilt heart was used for some of the "in one" numbers. Even this could transform. The curtain was really in three parts. The gilt heart was a separate piece that could float on-stage itself. The show title was painted on scrim within the heart. Performers could be revealed within the heart through the scrim, or an additional rear-projection screen could allow for images to be revealed through the heart. The unit could include a muslin full-stage drop to complete the image of a standard show curtain. The muslin had a cut-out section so that the reveals through the heart could still be accomplished.

For act II, a set of kinetic stair units was introduced. These could pivot into various combinations of shapes and were augmented by theatrical chandeliers, draped fabric, etc.

The floor design was a grand experiment in light-reactive technology. By using different concentrations of gold powder and gloss in each section, some parts of the design could be colored by the backlight, while other parts were energized by the front-light.

The production was designed to make liberal use of projection elements (not of my design) through 10 strategically placed xenon slide projectors augmented with a Pani projector. However all projection surfaces could also be hidden so that the period flavor of the piece was always maintained. The scenery "hang" also had to accommodate a light plot of 400 instruments.