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Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Sweet Memories of Angels in America

by Louie Fleck

Louie Fleck in the early 90s.
In 1993, I was making music in my little West Village home studio and producing multi-image slides for Fortune 500 companies. A good friend of mine told me I should not miss the most important play to ever hit Broadway: Angels In America by Tony Kushner. I went to see the first part: “Millenium Approaches,” and was blown away. I had never seen theater before that was this epic, moving and compelling. A close look at the program revealed that my friend, Scott Lehrer, was the sound designer. The next time I saw Scott, I begged him for an opportunity to assist on the second part, “Perestroika,” which was about to begin rehearsals. As fate would have it, Scott needed some help for a few weeks, so I was hired to work on my first Broadway show as assistant sound designer.

When it was actually time to begin, the show was terribly behind schedule on several different fronts. The script wasn’t finished, and it was timing out long, at about five hours! Instead of having me work at the Walter Kerr Theatre, where the show was installed, Scott sent me home to create some sound effects. I spent some time working with samples and synthesizers to create cues called for in the script as “musical thunder.” This was for the very first scene in “Perestroika,” right after the cliffhanger in “Millenium Approaches.” The angel has just descended from above and Prior Walter (Stephen Spinella) is fighting with what he thinks is a hallucination. The angel (Ellen McLaughlin) reacts by arguing back and throwing thunderbolts. Absolutely thrilling! I created more cues for a few days and presented them to Scott. He thought they were fine, but the next step was to see if the director, George C. Wolfe, would like any of my sound effects.

Now rehearsals were in full swing, and my new job was to sit at the sound table located in the 15th row of the theater, when Scott was unavailable. If the director had questions or desires about the sound, it was my job to get that info to Scott. This was pretty easy, since he asked for very little. The day finally came when my cues were played in the theater for Mr. Wolfe. It was amazing for me to hear these clusters of musical noise bouncing from speaker to speaker at high volume! Mr. Wolfe was happy with most of the cues I created and that was about it.

The best part was watching the cast rehearse. Every member of the cast was amazing! Though I never talked to the cast members directly, I began to feel like I really knew them.

As the show progressed, my job evolved into watching previews and taking notes from the director at the end of the night. On opening night, the show ran over four and a half hours. There were some long delays during scene changes, as the theater was almost too small for all the scenery; it all worked out. “Perestroika” finally clocked in at about three and a half hours. I must have seen “Perestroika” about 20 times (and “Millenium Approaches” eight to 10 times!). It was special every time. New meanings and images were revealed at every performance, and by this point, I don’t think there were any rewrites!

I haven't worked on another Broadway show since then, but I was pretty damn proud when it won the Pulitzer, numerous Tonys, and just about every other award a play can get! I'm looking forward to seeing Ivo van Hove's production at BAM this week.

Louie Fleck is the BAM Hamm Archives Manager.

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