This Musical Of A Movie Was No Ordinary Day At The Office
A continuation of Live Design’s roundtable discussion with the design team for 9 to 5 The Musical: scenic designer Scott Pask, costume designer William Ivey Long, sound designer John H. Shivers, associate sound designer/production sound engineer David Patridge, and co-imaging designer Peter Nigrini.
LD: What was the reaction to the wall?
Peter Nigini: I think Scott looked at it with some trepidation. What he was agreeing to was a big surface of potential and giving up a lot of the moment-to-moment of the stage picture.
Scott Pask: We were convinced of its malleability. It’s a wall of motion more than anything, a graphic element that could help in storytelling and provide some sort of context for where we are. Violet’s house has an island that’s dense with furniture and shag carpeting; on the upstage wall is this silhouette of a house, wreathed with smoke as she and the other women share a joint. I love that image.
PN: And William tapped at my shoulder, too, usually about color. Our palettes needed to integrate. In the second act number, “Change It,” he had done this really nice progression, from grays into pale blues, oranges, and yellows. I foolishly introduced a lavender and a horrible magenta, which just didn’t work with the clothes. Switching into his palette got us back on the same page. What was the correct palette? I don’t know, but I did know that I could change my colors in five to ten minutes, a lot quicker than it would take to change 38 costumes.
William Ivey Long: Were we contending with that? Oh, baby! “Damn that wall,” was my perspective. [laughs] It upped the ante in wattage in every way possible. I had to change many of the color choices and simple clean lines in the women’s clothes once I realized what they were up against. I’d never worked with an LED wall quite so prominent before. I replaced 50% of their clothes with solid primary colors so they would stand out in front of the wall. And I had to drop slips into all the dresses, because, boy, you see right through in that strong light.
Jonathan H. Shivers: The sky was the limit in terms of what kind of program you could put into that wall.
DP: We had the wall trigger synced to events like the lightning in one fantasy sequence and electrics events like the garage door opening. We had them trigger sound to their events, which also included the opening and closing of the elevator; when their event went, so too did ours. The video took MIDI timecode from us, which was synced with the band, which played to a click track for a couple of numbers and allowed video events to segue with the music. We really enjoyed the collaboration.
LD: How did you go about solving the challenges that arose?
SP: Flying by Foy got Marc Kudisch up there in his harness; it was up to us to figure out how to integrate it into the show flow. Hart’s house sequence in the second act was very tricky; we’re in different rooms throughout. We just reduced it to where it needed to be. It’s one wall, and from the side comes the bedroom. It’s as if we’ve taken the viewfinder and just shifted to stage left, and then it all shifts back, at which point the door comes on. It’s like picking your head up and scanning the room a little bit. All of the transitions in the show are automated to show how deftly things can be moved around, which is a great credit to my associates and the stage managers.
WIL: Stephanie, as Judy, has the hardest arc. She’s milquetoast mouse at the beginning, with pussycat bows and the long sleeves and the tweed skirts, and triumphant power woman by the end, in chiffon, open-necked and revealing. The other two are strong from the beginning. Her journey changed the most from Los Angeles to New York. Sometimes I forced it too much, and other times, I hadn’t brought her enough. Getting the right tone was difficult, plus she got two new songs.
JHS: The opening sequence is completely reliant on sound, at least for the first 30 seconds or so. There was a lot of back-and-forth about how the alarms that you hear going on and off should be patterned.
David Patridge: The Ahmanson had a much livelier room ambiance. Acoustically, the Marquis is dead; you’re trapped in a world of amplification. That can be a real gift in that you can reveal all the fine detail in the sound, but it also reveals all the flaws. Mic-wise, we’re very happy with the DPAs on the actors; they cost a little more, but we found them to sound better in a point-to-point comparison with other manufacturers. They save our bacon, too, on the acoustic instruments that needed close miking to avoid spill from other instruments and allow the performers freedom of movement. And Sennheiser is the mainstay in the industry in wireless.
Additionally, we used TC Electronics reverb to employ additional ambiance and get a vibe going in the room, because of the deadening that’s in there. Dialogue and singing sounds unnatural unless you add some processed ambiance back in there. QLab is a great product, too, that allowed us to sync with the electrics cues, video playback, and music elements, and get some creative things going on with timecode.
PN: I knew that Joe didn’t want the imaging to consume too much time in rehearsals, so the system had to be incredibly fast as well as flexible so we could move as quickly as everyone else. We were able to construct the color palette of the show in [the PRG] Mbox EXtreme™ and have realtime control over it, just like an LD does. As Ken and Jules would take a scene into a certain color range, I could follow organically, rather than have to choose them in advance. Being able to do this all in playback gave us the necessary speed.
There are loads of people who can make flashy animation. The harder part, which our team did, was, for example, creating office exterior textures for the open plan office in the show. When I can take something that’s so big and bright and full of distraction potential and make it secondary to the stars and the songs, that is when I have done my job. One sequence I enjoyed is the second act number “5 to 9,” with Roz, Hart’s devoted secretary (Kathy Fitzgerald); the set just sort of falls away, and we’ve got this 40' surface with moving images on it, but my gut tells me that everyone is watching her and not it.
Robert Cashill edited the other LD, Lighting Dimensions, Live Design’s predecessor, once upon a time. Today, Cashill is a freelance writer and editor for numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek.com, Time Out New York, and Playbill.