Why, yes, the Moroccan arches and Moorish columns in the Rockwell Ballroom are new.
They’re part of the transformation turning the venue into Rick’s Café Americain for the upcoming run of “Here’s Looking at You, Casablanca.” Everything from the doors to the tables to the ephemera on the walls, has been designed to make audiences feel like they’re in the gin joint from “Casablanca.”
“We’re trying to convert it to Rick’s Café Americain on Dec. 2, 1941, that’s a very specific date because in the movie (‘Casablanca’), he actually signs a gambling chip with that date,” said John Clough, the show’s producer. “We know the exact time, we know the date. We know it’s in Casablanca, Unoccupied France.”
That specificity anchors the show that includes elements of improv, theater, cabaret and a screening of the classic film that inspired the production.
Transportation to the reality of the café starts before attendees enter the space proper, and can even start at home.
Show-goers are welcome to dress in era-appropriate garb, but it isn’t required.
Once at Rick’s Café, papers will need to be presented for inspection, and eyed through a peephole before attendees are admitted. Once people step inside, the goal is immersion in a new place with a feel familiar to anyone who has seen “Casablanca.”
“We’re going to have a little darkened area, it’s sort of like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ down the rabbit hole, so to speak, then this whole world opens in front of you.” set Nathan Rodda, set designer for “Here’s Looking at You…,” who also designed past sets for “Hair Spray” and “Man of La Mancha.”
Rodda was flown into Juneau from Seattle in the spring to get a sense of the space that will serve as an immersive stage for the collaboration between Juneau Lyric Opera and Gold Town Nickelodeon. He was back in town Monday to finish decorating the ballroom.
He said during his first visit it was apparent he’d have his work cut out for him.
“Partly because there were some condition issues to overcome, and also it’s kind of a blank slate,” Rodda said.
That blankness allowed Rodda, who has designed sets for Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan, to change the shape of the slate, then fill it in with flashy flourishes supplemented with era-appropriate details.
That includes 10 Moroccan arches, custom-made lighting, café-style seating, palm trees, a painted piano, posters, advertisements, documents and wall art.
Clough said after visiting the Alhambra in Granada, he brought back a book detailing Moorish design, which he gave to Rodda, who internalized and incorporated elements of the style.
“I actually took the book to bed with me every night.” Rodda said.
Actors and performers interacting with the audience and providing aural accompaniment also factor in to the immersion.
“Everybody in there is assigned a particular accent for where they’re from,” Clough said. “It’s a real mix of ethnicity that way. Every single song is not just a song that was from that era but that was in the film.”
Clough spoke highly of a band assembled by Rob Cohen and singers including Collette Costa, Erika Lee, Jocelyn Miles and Marian Call.
“You can’t get any better than that in Juneau,” Clough said.
Know & Go
What: “Here’s Looking at You, Casablanca”
When: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 9, 10,11, 16, 17 and 18.
Where: Rick’s Café (The Rockwell Ballroom), 109 S. Franklin St.
Admission: Ticket cost $40 for regular seating and $55 for premium seating. Tickets will be available at the JACC, Hearthside Books and online.