Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Shogun': The Set's the Show Spectacle Nearly Upstages Drama in Loren Sherman's Design for the New Musical. THEATER: INTERVIEW

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Shogun': The Set's the Show Spectacle Nearly Upstages Drama in Loren Sherman's Design for the New Musical. THEATER: INTERVIEW

Article excerpt

THE stage curtain doesn't rise; it folds - in the form of a huge black-and-gold lacquered Japanese screen - to reveal "Shogun, the Musical."

The spectacle we are swept into is the beginning of a storm at sea, complete with a British frigate rolling about in waves of a shimmering, silky blue. Silvery mermaids and mermen rise amid the waves. The sky darkens; the ship founders; you feel as though you are literally at sea in a gale. And that's not all.

There's the earthquake, in which the ground opens under the actors. Fiery red hunks of earth appear, and the back wall splits open like a roasted hotdog. In the sword-fight scenes, the scenery is as choreographed as the men, so that giant pillars move with a snap into place as the swordsmen do their savage dance.

Shogun, the Look almost upstages "Shogun, the Musical" in the lavish new $6-to-$8 million version of James Clavell's novel-turned-televison miniseries, and now an upcoming Broadway show. The plot remains the same: the story of an English sea captain shipwrecked off Japan in 1700, who falls in love with a gorgeous, although married, Japanese woman.

The sets alone cost over $1 million, and much of the credit for the look goes to scenic designer Loren Sherman. He talked about the massive sets and special effects backstage at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, where "Shogun" is playing prior to its November opening on Broadway.

It will take 28 semi-trailers to carry the scenery and special effects that fill the mammoth stage here to New York. The Broadway theater is considerably smaller, "so everything you see here will have to be either in the basement (there) or hanging overhead," says Mr. Sherman.

We are standing backstage under the catwalk in the Eisenhower Theater. There are two shows in this theater - the one out front that the audience sees and the one backstage that it doesn't.

We pass the barrel full of steely looking swords, nitrogen tanks for the fog, the board of lights. Sherman points out, "This show uses moving lights, as they use them in rock shows. It allows the lighting designer to point the light anywhere, adjust the color, size, intensity, and patterns in the lights."

We move on past the color-TV camera to see the scenes, and the infrared system that allows people backstage to see in the dark during the split-second scene changes.

We approach the stage, which is raked at such a sharp angle a puppy could roll downhill. Dancers have to be nimble enough to perform on that slant. We pass the fog ducts and then many huge yellow hoses for the smoke scenes. Further on, there are lighting-control consoles, the 500 dimmers; each box has 100 controls, each for a specific light. Nearby we see a huge pair of prop scissors, piles of pillows that are crash pads for when the sailors dive off the ship. Next, a pipe with 28 black-net fantasy horses on it, to be lowered just before a battle scene fought on horseback. A sedan chair and mattresses hang from the ceiling.

Has someone measured all this to be sure it can all fit in the Broadway theater? "Yes, says Sherman. "The scenery will all fit. What gets smaller is the space around it - for the wardrobe people to work, spaces for the actors to run around. He explains that when the platforms used onstage are stored in the wings, people backstage have to stand on top of them, because there's no other floor space. "So they have to know, when a cue is coming, it's going to bring all the platforms on stage. The floor will go out from under them...."

There are two computers for movement of the sets, Sherman points out. "I really did feel like a kid in a candy store, in the computerized scenery movement.... I think this company has state-of-the-art computers. There are separate computers for scenery that's lowered in from above, and for scenery that rolls around on the floor. And they've developed a software program that basically makes it very easy to choreograph the movement of the scenery. …

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