Wanting a new show that would be un-like anything previously seen on a ship and one that would up the ante for cruising entertainment, Princess Cruises partnered with Stephen Schwartz, the Oscar, Grammy, and Tony award-winning composer of Wicked and Pippin, to change the perception of on-board entertainment.
Magic to Do, Schwartz’ original musical, incorporates several never before heard original songs, with a romantic narrative that tracks the lives of two couples, highlighted with astonishing magical illusions. EDC, the show’s Scenic Design firm, worked with Broadway Director Gabriel Barre, Broadway Lighting Designer Ken Billington, Broadway Costume Designer Dominique Lemieux, and Broadway Illusion Designer Jim Steinmeyer to discover where the narrative lent itself to magic and what type of magic would work within the narrative.
What makes this project so unique was Princess Cruises’ ambition in leading the industry to produce a completely original, Broadway-level musical, with some of Broadway’s greatest talent, on three of their premiere ships. This was a huge gamble and investment, but Princess dug in and bet on the future of their entertainment offerings by creating a grand show, that begs for exotic illusions, props, back drops, and set pieces, while being contained in the ship’s limited back-stage space; all with an audience that isn’t paying the price for the typical Broadway theater ticket.
Knowing that we had very limited storage, but wanting to create a feast for the eyes, EDC’s design intent and inspiration came from the paintings of Rene Magritte. Our hope was to attempt to challenge the audience’s perceptions of reality and illusion. In keeping with the surrealist theme, EDC made use of trompe l’oeil effects to make the intimate Princess theatre appear to be awash in luxurious drapery; a faux, foreshortened gold-leaf proscenium appeared to extend beyond the stage and into the house, while faux curtain borders ‘hung’ from Juliet balconies. The legs of the stage were designed to look like white marble columns, while the negative space between the columns concealed a host of bowler-hatted men; a reference to Magritte’s famous painting. Every color, pattern, and shape lead audiences down a path of trickery. Not only would the narratively integrated illusions surprise and delight, our hope was that the entire show (scenic, lighting, costumes, and projection) caused the audience to question what was real or not.
EDC also collaborated on the illusion design with Jim Steinmeyer, one of the most brilliant minds in magic. EDC’s creative challenge was to understand how each illusion functioned and then integrate the ‘illusion technology’ into the show’s design. This involved creating over 15 illusion props, from small trunks to big cabinets, to create the astonishing transportations, levitations, disappearances, vanishes, and appearances of the many performers on stage.
To minimize the storage of hard scenery and backdrops, EDC also employed an upstage LED wall to create digital scenery. In several instances, physical scenery in the theater was reproduced and carried through the LED wall to create the illusion of an expansive and deep theatrical setting.
The final result of EDC’s ‘Sleight of Hand’ design strategy succeeded in creating an original Broadway level musical in a cruise ship theatre, setting a new bar for on-ship entertainment.
Key Players/Design Team
- Composer: Stephen Schwartz
- Director: Gabriel Barre
- Producer: Don Frantz
- Choreography: Jennifer Paulson-Lee
- Illusion Designer: Jim Steinmeyer
- Scenic Design (EDC): Jeremy Railton, Alex Calle, Francesca Nicolas
- Lighting Designer: Ken Bilington
- Media Designer: George Johnsen
- Costume Designer: Dominique Lemieux
- Musical Director: Mark Hartman
- Sound Designer: Danny Fiandaca
- Music Producer Steve Skorija
- VP of Entertainment: Adrian Fischer
- Director of Entertainment: Denise Saviss
- Manager of Programs and Product Development: Kerry Lovegrove
- Entertainment Coordinator: Doreen Rosenfeld
- Specialist of Production Operations: Chad Singleton
- Production Stage Manager: Stephen Grasset
- Great Lakes Scenic
- Bill Ferrell & Co.
- Stage Illusions: Willy Kennedy
- Silvia’s Costume
- The Puppet Studio
- Two media servers were used to implement the content: Hippotizer HD v.3 for playback and Coolux Pandoras Box PRO 5.2 during rehearsal and production.
- Two Panasonic projectors are used: 21k for front projection, and a 7k for rear projection
- Automated Philips Vari-Lite including; VL3500Q Spots, VL2500 Washes, VL2500 Spots, and VL1000 Profiles were part of the three cruise ships’ set-up
- Robe ROBIN DL4S Profiles
- ETC Source Four LED Series 2 Lustrs
- Philips Selecon Acclaim PCs
- Elation Professional ELAR Q1s
- Martin Professional Atomic 3000 DMX Strobes
- High End Dataflash strobes
- L&E Ministrips
- Strong Super Trouper II followspots
- Wildfire Blacklight Cannons
- Morpheus Lights ColorFaders
- For effects: Martin Glaciator X-Stream low smoke machines, MDG Atmosphere hazers, MDG Mini Max fog generators, and Reel-EFX DMX fans.
- To enhance the illusions: MR16 striplights, 18 High End Studio Color 575s, 18 Cyberlight Turbos, and ETC Source four PARs, some equipped with Morpheus M Fader, and S Fader scrollers.