Musical Theater Factory: Scenic Design for Mamma Mia!

Musical Theater Factory: Scenic Design for Mamma Mia!

Hi there. I’m Jason Sherwood and this is
another Musical Theater Factory vlog and today we’re going to be talking about my
set design for the upcoming 5th Avenue production of Mamma Mia!
When Bill Berry called me and asked if I wanted to design Mamma Mia! at The 5th
Ave, I was immediately excited at the idea that we were going to create a new
production of the show. I’d seen it on Broadway and I’d seen it on tour with my
family and we had an amazing time watching the show and experiencing it
together as a group and I was excited that we were going to take another look
at the visual world of it and try to take what is basically an iconic stage
brand, a show that so many people have seen and enjoyed and give it a new visual
twist, a thing that would evoke the location of Mamma Mia so we had to be in
Greece surrounded by water on an island and that was an incredibly important
part of representing the visual world of the show. Historically the show’s been
represented with the iconic white kind of stone and stucco Greek buildings and
pathways, and when looking at the research and having visited some Greek
islands myself, I was excited about the idea of creating a huge vista of water, a
sense of sky and water immediately blending into each other, and then an
island sitting in the center of it. So Bill Berry and I began going after that
idea, that the play itself would take place on a floating island on the stage
surrounded by what would FEEL like an enormous panoramic Vista of gorgeous
Greek sky and water, and that became our jumping-off point for the entire design.
And what we did want to do was avoid anything that felt heavy or leaden or
incredibly architectural in a prohibitive way, and instead focus on
elements that were sort of lighter and more transparent and porous so there
would always be a sense of sky and water. Things like different decorative wrought
iron railings and lattice work and florals and you know open iron benches
and doorways and shutters things that were architectural and would define
space and tell us a lot about the places that we were in but would also give us
an opportunity to never escape the feeling that you have when you’re on an
island like that, that there’s water everywhere. There was also the idea that
there’s essentially a core group of characters who live on the
Island–Sophie and her mother Donna–and that everyone’s kind of visiting the
island for the purpose of the wedding, which is a very Shakespearean idea, that
people are traveling to Padua to come to visit Bianca and her father it’s a it’s
a classic theatre storytelling idea. And we really wanted to create a way that it
felt like there were a group of people who lived here and it was their home and
then other people travelling towards us. So there are a series of docks and
catwalks that make up the entire playing space that suggests a coming and going
at all times. There’s this one large curved catwalk that sort of descends
down into the space and that’s how people make their entrances, with their
roller bags arriving for Sophie’s wedding. And that became an important
idea that there was a definition between people who lived there and people who
didn’t live there and then watching them all arrive for the festivities, and of
course the, you know, paternal whodunit of who’s my dad. When you get a chance to
reinterpret a show that’s become iconic like Mamma Mia I think there are sort of
two responsibilities, and one is to come at it from your own vantage point from
your own perspective with your own ideas, and then the other is to honor what
people love about the show. This show, no matter where you do it, no matter with
what’s that you do it with, is going to be hysterical and light-hearted and
sentimental and a ton of fun for an audience to watch. And how you sort of
make that happen on stage physically is up to the creative team and so from the
get-go Bill Berry and I knew we wanted to do
something a little bit different from what audiences had seen on Broadway and
on tour and internationally for Mamma Mia!. And I think what we’ve sort of gone
after is a sense of evoking the physical place but bringing it all back down to
the essential elements and really making it about the characters and the people
and this big big sense that they’re all existing in this utterly gorgeous kind
of Greek Vista for the entire duration of the play, and not so much getting
mired down into, “there’s a wall here, and there’s a wall here and there’s a wall
here,” so we’re trying to sort of go after the whole play with a bit more lightness. The other thing that we were excited to go after was that the playing space
could maybe be pulled forward in the theater at The 5th Ave so the audience
can in fact be a lot closer to the performance than maybe they typically
are for other musicals that we’ve seen there before. And certainly the other two that I’ve designed on The 5th Ave stage before. So it was an opportunity to create a set that felt like it sort of was exploding out of the
proscenium and existing in this big beautiful blue sky and ocean shell that
would really take us and transport us to the Greek islands. Thanks so much for
joining us for this sneak peek into the design process for Mamma Mia! at The 5th
Avenue. We look forward to seeing you at the show!

3 thoughts on “Musical Theater Factory: Scenic Design for Mamma Mia!

  1. Thank you so much for all the hard work to put together the Seattle's 5th Ave. production of Mama Mia… We attended opening night with the sold out audience.. In 24 years of being a subscriber to the 5th we put this production in the Top 3. It was outstanding and very obvious that the players were having a blast onstage… giving it their all. The set was beautiful. This will be the first time we do a revisit to one of the plays at the theatre and I'm as excited to see it again as I was the first time… I would like however to ask, I am having a debate with a friend.. The background orchestration, harmon was done to a recorded track Yes?

  2. The show was amazing. I loved the set, the music, the actors, everything. The backdrop thing that reflected the “water” part of the show, I thought that was really creative. I loved how every character was expressed, and how the actors portrayed them in their own unique way. The show was spectacular, and I wish I could see it again with different actors and set design.

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