Designers Reveal the Visual Effects in Broadway's Nine

Special Features   Designers Reveal the Visual Effects in Broadway's Nine
"I feel it's in a way a Fellini-esque kind of gesture," set designer Scott Pask explained to Playbill On-Line about one of the many visual effects that occur in the current Broadway revival of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit's musical Nine.

Jane Krakowski wrapped in Nine.
Jane Krakowski wrapped in Nine. Photo by Joan Marcus

Pask spoke of the immense Botticelli-inspired tiled backdrop that looms behind the playing space at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. Using a portion of Italian artist Sandro Botticelli's "Primavera" (or "The Allegory of Spring") known as "The Three Graces," the designer created what he terms a "weeping wall."

Pask explained, "We turned this fragment of the Botticelli into a fresco with gold tiles... it's in such a state of decay [that] the curtain in front of it is like renovation curtain which is then peeled back."

The "weeping" effect is achieved by releasing a row of jets at the top which dispenses water that flows down the entire breadth of the back wall. Pask compared "The Three Graces," to the show's focal female trio of wife Luisa, mistress Carla and leading lady Claudia. "It does have this sort of emblematic relationship to the play where the three women cry."

Joking about becoming known as "the water guy" — he also designed the London, Off-Broadway and Broadway stagings of Take Me Out, which features an onstage locker-room shower — Pask explained Nine's other water effect: the pool at the spa. Flowing up to the stage from underground, water fills the indented section of the stage. It is pumped through the onstage drain. Once the pool reaches capacity, the water pours over a downstage lip "going over into what we ended up calling the 'catch pool,' and then it goes back downstairs," the designer described.

On the upstage right portion of the stage is another Pask creation — a spiral staircase which ascends up to the fly space "reaching the heavens." The helix — with an opening to a catwalk at its approximate midpoint — serves as the primary entrance for the women in the life or mind of Antonio Banderas' Guido Contini. The staircase also acts as something of a carousel at the production's end, turning and displaying the female cast as they make their final exit. Pask depicts the effect as "the very last little Fellini-esque wink." Speaking of major entrances and exits, actress Jane Krakowski as Guido's mistress makes her "A Call From the Vatican" arrival suspended from above. "It was something that costumes and I had both collaborated on and then as it got more complicated, we needed experts, so that was when the flying guys were brought in," said Pask. The production enlisted the combined talents of Flying by Foy and AntiGravity.

Trained in technique by AntiGravity's Mam Smith, the daring and scantily-clad Krakowski is hoisted into a custom-made silk — made with Lycra — called tricote, according to AntiGravity general manager Alexander Schlempp. The material — which appears to be a bedsheet knotted at the bottom where the actress is nestled — then spans the entire height of the stage as it lowers her atop a table. At the end of the showstopping number, Krakowski rewraps herself upside-down and is flown upwards out of sight.

"Though we normally do the choreography ourselves," said Foy flyguy Jamie Leonard — who installed the computerized system with a programmed motor which does the actual raising and lowering — "in this instance, they wanted to use their own choreographer, so we just sort of implemented the effect for them." Safety was a major issue, explained Leonard, who assures the stunt is "really very secure. You couldn't have convinced me of it, but to look at it and to see how she locks herself in there, it really is quite safe." And just in case, "There's a webbing piece that she puts around her wrist as a safety."

Nonetheless, with the many special effects used in the show, audiences will note among the credits in the Playbill, "insurance" is handled by "Marsh USA, Inc."

Antonio Banderas and company on the <i>Nine</i> stage.
Antonio Banderas and company on the Nine stage. Photo by Joan Marcus
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