48 Hours

Victo Ngai

This sums up my past couple crazy weeks. Two covers and an interior spread, each piece created within 48 hours from sketch to finish. I haven’t been able to work on quick turnarounds as much last year because of a few long term projects. The thrill is definitely to be missed.  

The first two are for Variety’s cover story on China’s growing influence on Hollywood, in particular four mega-media companies that have its eye on the film/entertainment industry. Big thanks to AD Chuck Kerr, I love the layout design and type treatments. 

 The third one is a cover for Wall Street Journal Weekend Review on the newest research findings of our brains. “For 400 years, we’ve had the wrong view of the brain. Now scientists are finally gaining a new understanding on how it works and its unique way of healing—and the latest discoveries are changing the way we approach brain-related ailments, from Parkinson’s disease to traumatic brain injury to dementia.” Big thanks to AD Keith Webb!


‘Hamilton’ Star Karen Olivo Shares the Rap Trick She Learned from Lin-Manuel Miranda (WSJ) [x x x x]:

[…]  As Vanessa, the source of a crush for Miranda’s character Usnavi, she learned a technique from him that would come in handy eight years later. It was a simple rhythm and memory trick that helped her master Angelica’s song“Satisfied,” featuring one of the fastest raps in “Hamilton.”

Olivo’s rap tutorial came during the “In the Heights” song “96,000,” in which the major characters take turns describing what they’d do with a winning lottery ticket sold at Usnavi’s store. 

“We called that part of the song the Super Friends circle,” Olivo recalls. “I remember during that period in tech [rehearsals]. I would watch Lin and he would do this tiny thing with his hands and he would move them from side to side in succession. I said, ‘What exactly are you doing?’ And he was like, ‘Oh, I’m putting the words in the boxes. While I’m rapping, I’m visualizing my hands putting each word in the box that it belongs in, and basically putting it in the beat.’ 

“I was like, ‘Oh, that’s ingenious.’ At first you’re not thinking necessarily about the emotion of what you’re saying. But you’re technically putting things where they need to go in space. And that’s how I rehearsed these raps for Angelica. I put all of the words in the boxes. So much so that when we got up on our feet and started performing, [director] Tommy Kail said, ‘Karen you’re moving your hands a lot.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m putting the words in the boxes.’ He’s like, ‘Stop putting the words in the boxes, just rap.’ Oh, right, that’s just a technique, not something I’m supposed to be showing.” 

‘Hamilton’ Hits Chicago with Karen Olivo as Angelica (WSJ):

Karen Olivo was in bed at home in Madison, Wis. when she first learned that the Broadway juggernaut “Hamilton” was headed to Chicago. After her husband read her the news, she rolled over, grabbed her phone and sent an email to the director: “Are you going to let me audition for Angelica?”

No audition needed. She had history with the team behind “Hamilton,” having had a lead role in creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony-winning musical “In the Heights.” That was before Ms. Olivo, who has a Tony of her own for playing Anita in “West Side Story,” paused her career and moved to the Midwest.

Burned out on theater’s eight-show-a-week grind and a dispiriting detour into television, she walked away in 2013. “You have to find a life, so when you come back to the stage you have a life to talk about,” she says. Life in her adopted hometown involved spending time with her husband James Uphoff, a sound technician she had met in New York, and his two tween children, hitting the farmer’s market and occasionally operating a snowblower. She wrote and directed theatrical pieces, worked on a forthcoming album, and coached University of Wisconsin students in song interpretation.


“People come to learn about the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, but when it comes to the parts about him feeling something or about how his emotions are changing, all of that burden lies on the women in the show,” says Ms. Olivo, taking a break from making opening-night cards for her fellow cast members.

The eldest of the well-to-do Schuyler sisters, Angelica sacrifices her own chance at happiness with Hamilton so that her sibling Eliza (played by Ari Afsar in Chicago) can marry him. Angelica seems to best perceive Hamilton’s complex mix of ambition, brains and pride.

“In all the rooms she’s in, Angelica is the smartest person there. That’s a quality you can’t really coach,” says “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail, who also directed Ms. Olivo in “In the Heights.” He sees a “chemical match” between the actress and her character.

As recalled in “Hamilton: The Revolution,” Mr. Miranda’s best-selling book with collaborator Jeremy McCarter, the show’s creator said that “Angelica gets to spit the hardest bars in the show.” The blistering rap he referred to comes in “Satisfied,” Angelica’s showcase song about her triangle of love and loyalty.

The song also contains a melody that Mr. Miranda first wrote for Ms. Olivo years ago when she was working on an album. That project, along with her song lyrics about an unworkable romance, got shelved. So when Mr. Miranda got stuck on “Satisfied,” he sent a text message to his friend, asking if he could have the melody back.

For Ms. Olivo, one challenge in playing Angelica is finding body language and other “inflections” that reveal what the character is hiding behind a strong facade. “Given a production like this, where the words are so specific and they’re rapid-fire, I had to be very careful about what’s playable and what’s not playable,” she says. “For my version of Angelica, I’ve been trying to figure out where those little nuggets are, where her mask slips for a second, without creating something that wasn’t written.”

She says she didn’t feel left out or jealous when “Hamilton” took shape and then took off after she had left New York. “I felt this older-sister pride,” she recalls. “I got to be a fan and watch my friends create this behemoth. Then I was lucky enough to step into it and figure out how it works from the inside. It’s the best of both worlds really.”