David Korins' Set Design For Annie, Part 2

David Korins, scenic designer for Annie on Broadway, notes that the theme of cutouts and layers that create dimensional scenery carries through to several scenes. “We have a Central Park West ground row, a Lower East Side ground row, and buildings—all stacked up cutouts,” says Korins. “There’s a Manhattan Bridge and a Queensboro Bridge, and they’re all flat, but because of the perspective, they actually really feel like very, very deep dimensional pieces.”

The other prominent theme that suggests the poverty of Annie’s Lower East Side orphanage is the hanging laundry, prevalent in 1930s-era New York. The laundry doubles as a show curtain and projection screen, fabricated by Daedalus Design and Production and automated by PRG. Projections on it include newsreels from 1933 that give the audience some context, including scenes of unemployment lines, bread lines, FDR, Babe Ruth, and more. “It was also a way in to tell people at the top of the show what they’re about to watch,” says Korins. “So then when the curtain finally rises, the audience then sees multiple tiers of laundry lines moving back in perspective that help sell the depth of the Lower East Side street.

David Mitchell designed the set for the original production and won a Tony Award for it. “It was a box set, starting with the orphanage and then had a conveyer belt that moved in all the scenery stage left to stage right, unveiling a whole other set each scene, “says Korins. “That was really cutting edge in 1976, but now it’s really not, so I didn’t feel any pressure, as I knew our show would move in a more technologically, and more elegant, elemental way.”

The show’s set evolved from sketched storyboards. Korins says his team did approximately ten rounds of sketches before any models were built, then built the models, and then took 16 versions of model photos, and an additional 15 or 16 storyboards of rendered versions (half drawn, half Photoshop versions). “It might not be a stretch to say we storyboarded it in different versions around 75 times,” says Korins. “So much of the show is choreography-based and depends on getting from one place to another and timing, and because it’s such an elemental set with so many pieces, it’s very nuanced work.” Korins figures this amounted to thousands of hours for the storyboarding and modeling process. “But then there’s not a huge amount of mystery once we get into the theatre,” he adds. Check out Korins' set models here.

For the Christmas scene at the Warbucks mansion, the enormous three-tiered chandelier made of Swarovski crystals inverts, lowers down to the ground, retracts and opens up, becoming a 25’-tall Christmas tree. “It’s a transitional moment in the show,” says Korins. “We have little LED lights all over the rails and wreaths, and the whole world gets activated with light, and the crowning piece is the chandelier turning into a Christmas tree. It’s a beautiful, evocative image. It’s fun to think that this object that’s always there can unfold and turn into something else, and we don’t have to bring in yet another piece. It’s magical and surprising, and yet, inevitable.”

The look of mansion itself was informed by real research of Warbucks’ Fifth Avenue address (mentioned in the musical), as well as the Vanderbilt Mansion, Metropolitan Club, and other private residences on Fifth Avenue. The color palette of the Lower East Side, by contrast, had to be grungy and institutional, while the color of the mansion was austere with whites, blacks, and grays, until Annie infuses more color into the scenes when she arrives.

One of the scenes in New York City sees cast members walking from the mansion to the Roxy Theatre, and it includes a snow globe with a miniature model of the city inside. “The mansion peels away one element at a time, and as they walk, they pass a skyline, and they meet other people in Times Square where we have other Times Square marquis, and then finally the get to the big Roxy sign,” says Korins. “Most of this is automated, and some of it made to look like it’s manipulated, but it’s automated. We also have eight linesets backstage that are being moved by flymen, and the others are automated fly.”

There were four set builders involved in the production: PRG provided the automation, decks, Lower East Side scenery, as well as the flip books; Daedelus built the two bridges and the laundry curtain, as well as the Roxy sign; Proof Productions fabricated the Warbucks mansion scenery (except for the flip book) and the catwalk; and Tom Carroll Scenery built the props and an extending car.

Korins’ team includes his associate designer Rod Lemmond, who Korins calls “masterful and responsible for so much of the work on that stage,” as well as assistant designers Amanda Stephens (drafting), Sarah Reede (paint work), Emily Inglis (model building), and Stephen Edwards (model building, drafting).

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