THEATRE BY DESIGN: The Book of Mormon's Designers Scott Pask and Ann Roth
By Adam Hetrick
In their own words, 2011 Tony Award nominees Scott Pask (scenic design) and Ann Roth (costume design) share their vision for the skewed world of The Book of Mormon.
*For Emmy-winning "South Park" writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Avenue Q songwriter Robert Lopez, the jokes come fast and furious when it comes to their Tony-nominated hit musical The Book of Mormon.
Audiences leave the theatre with songs like "Hello!," "Two By Two," and "Hasa Diga Eebowai" stuck in their heads and the stinging jokes still provoking belly laughs long after the curtain comes down at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.
But two of their Tony Award-nominated collaborators are providing dozens of laughs without the aid of language: They are veteran costume designer Ann Roth and Tony-winning scenic designer Scott Pask, both of whom earned 2011 Tony Award nominations for their work on The Book of Mormon.
Pask won his first Tony Award for the dark play The Pillowman and followed with a Tony for the epic staging of The Coast of Utopia. He has been Tony-nominated for his designs on Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Pal Joey.
The designers shared their sketches, inspirations and some funny commentary with Playbill.com for a special look at designing The Book of Mormon.
Spooky Mormon Hell Dream
PASK: This scene in the show is an extreme departure from all the others and is a feat of stagecraft and technical expertise. Elder Price's nightmarish vision appears as the Orlando drop is ripped away - sucked into the floor in two seconds - instantly transforming the entire stage. It's a perspective shift, like looking down into the vortex of a volcanic spiral of molten lava, with Satan at the center of it all! At the end of the song, the whole image flies away, immediately restoring the scene to the bus stop in Africa where the demons have turned back into Elder Price's missionary compatriots and he has woken from his Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.
"Two by Two" Dance Break!
PASK: The Mormon missionaries are dancing jubilantly after receiving their Mission locations, with the Salt Lake City Temple gleaming behind. Each of these surfaces is coated in sparkle-filled enamel, and each building made of metal-laminated surfaces and then painted upon so that every aspect of the city is radiant. There are also lights behind each row of these dimensional buildings creating glowing halos all around.
The Book of Mormon Proscenium and Scrim
PASK: The Proscenium, which is inspired by contemporary Mormon temples and other religious architecture, is filled with illuminated stained glass windows that transform in color throughout the evening, and is topped by the gilded (and rotating!) statue of the Angel Moroni. This frames our entire evening, attributing an important pageant-like quality to the story. The Show Scrim and the architectural panels installed above each of the audience boxes are inspired by galactic views of the universe, combined with an inspirational greeting-card-style sunrise to create an imagined vision of Mormon heaven.
Salt Lake City
PASK: The stage-wide view of Salt Lake City is composed of multiple layers of architecture presented as though viewed from slightly below, to give it a more awe inspiring perspective. The shape of the clouds swirl above in an arc around the sacred center of the Mormon's earthly domain.
PASK: Laundry hangs on a line at the edge the muddy river where Elder Cunningham will baptize Nabalungi. The audience watches the baptism in silhouette through the tattered cloth.
PASK: These images depict several scenes of The Book of Mormon in the Scenic Design Model and rendered views. Among them: the African village, the Mormon mission in the village, the transformation of Africa for American Moses, when the African Skies part to reveal a biblical sky, Nabalungi's hut in the starlight for her song "Sal Tlay Ka Siti ", Orlando, Spooky Mormon Hell Dream. You'll have to come see the show to see more of Utah, the Airport (final boarding on Airfrica airways to Uganda!), the Training Center, and more of the many locations in Africa.
The Pageant: Joseph Smith, American Moses
PASK: Our pageant within the pageant. The African Villagers recount the Mormon proverbs as preached to them by Elder Cunningham. They have handcrafted a stage reminiscent of the show Proscenium but out of sticks and their angel Moroni is made out of discarded corn husks. The golden plates, recovered by Joseph Smith after his instruction by God, are represented here, literally, as painted plates!
ROTH: This is not a big noisy musical – it’s different. There’s a homemade aspect at the center of it. You realize that when you get to the African Pageant; the costumes the girls are wearing, their attempt to look like pioneer women – they want bonnets and aprons. They want to look like the photographs they see hanging in the Mormon headquarters’ mission hall in Uganda. So they attempted to make them with whatever they had, to look like that. The brim of one bonnet was made of a cereal box. One was made of license plates and their aprons were made of African fabric. On top of that apron was another apron made of rice bags, and bags I found that were going to Africa through a multinational aid organization. How I found them, I don’t know. I paid $15 dollars for them. And I used rice bags – all the things were real African things.
ROTH: My first drawing of Jesus didn’t take very long. Jesus always looked like Cheryl Tiegs to me. And when I had my first wig discussions, I found photographs of Cheryl Tiegs so that the brilliant Josh Marquette (hair designer) could strive to do exactly that. Thank God. I put lights under Jesus inside the costume because I wanted a glow on him.
ROTH: The little devils were a weird shape in costume. They are not your normal dancer’s fitted costume. I had wanted them to look like lost boys, or bad boys – really bad boys – and so I made them very weird with longer arms and feet that curled upwards. At the same time, the actors had to get out of the devil jammies and into their Mormon shirt, tie and pants – which were underneath the costumes – in less than 10 or 15 seconds.
Pageant Joseph Smith Sketch
ROTH: I found in my research that Joseph Smith was this handsome, blonde, six-foot guy in a dark-blue jacket and tan britches. We wanted in the African Pageant (“Joseph Smith American Moses”) for the Ugandans to represent him naively and charmingly – so I had them make a blonde wig out of leaves and twigs and blonde feathers and straw. The Joseph Smith jacket was, I pretended, from an Eastern Airlines pilot who had crashed and the Ugandans took his jacket and left him wherever he was and that became the jacket that African Joseph Smith would wear. I saw that in research: dead people’s clothes, sometimes dead by way of bullets.
ROTH: The research really started at the Hill Cumorah Festival. We didn’t know what we were getting into when we went there, but it was pretty amazing. The audience, who are also in costume, come back year after year. They spend six months making their costumes and this is their big family event. Being in that audience with the Mormons – with these clean-shaven, precise-haircut, happy people – when you’re surrounded by easily 10,000 of them, it begins to dawn on you. I’m not just doing a Broadway show. This is something else.
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