The Prom’s Sets Glitter As Brightly As Its A-List Cast
Start with the re-creation of the area of Broadway known as the Great White Way. Filming in Manhattan was a no-go because of permitting issues and the quick schedule turnaround. Besides, construction and scaffolding put a visual damper on the magical look the team was aiming for. (“Ryan said ‘Lights, lights and more lights,’” McCall says.) They instead constructed a set in downtown Los Angeles, basing the look off McCall’s mood board of marquees, tall buildings, and Fred Astaire dancing on the pavement. “You don’t see the grit and grime,” she says.
The crew also built the interior of the famed Sardi’s restaurant, complete with button-tufted furnishings, a richly patterned red carpet, and rows of celebrity caricatures on the walls—an artist mimicked the styles of the portraits and produced hundreds of them. Set decorator Gene Serdena notes the meticulous degree of planning that went into staging for the hilarious Corden-Streep duet “Changing Lives.” The custom-made tables, for instance, were reinforced with steel and bolted onto the floor for added stability because the actors had to dance on top of them.
Several jabs at Indiana’s expense aside, Murphy had no intention of making the Midwest-set scenes look drab and dated. “We wanted to heighten the color of pinks, blues, and magentas in those sets,” McCall says. “Just because we don’t live there doesn’t mean that the look can’t be grabbing.” To wit, Emma resides with her grandma (Mary Kay Place), who happens to be free-spirited and forward-thinking. Murphy requested bold floral wallpaper for the living room, but the scale of the space had to be exaggerated to accommodate a Bob Fosse–inspired production number. For Emma’s bedroom, “I wanted it to look like she had probably rummaged through a lot of stuff in the attic trying to make it her own,” McCall says. “She’s a little eclectic like her grandma.”
While The Prom is chock-full of large-scale sets to accommodate the elaborate song and dance numbers, none presented as much of a challenge as the titular event itself. “We wanted to create this wonderful inclusive prom, making it feel like everybody would want to be there,” McCall says. Filmed inside the Helen Bernstein High School gym in L.A., the scene literally glitters thanks to a series of ribbed arches intricately wrapped in LED string lights programmed to change color and illuminate sequentially in sync with the soundtrack. The design also includes a moving rainbow “cloud” running the length of the space and flanked by a forest of suspended crystals. “Jamie described the cloud as crinoline-like,” Serdena says.
“I think the reason Ryan and I work well together is because he’s such a great storyteller and when he explains something to me, it’s clear as day to me,” says McCall, who transitioned quickly from The Prom to his upcoming chapter of American Crime Story: Impeachment. “I like that it’s my job to make his visions happen.”