In its eight-episode third season, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel hit the road, requiring production designer Bill Groom to design sets for such disparate locations as Las Vegas, Providence, Oklahoma and Miami.
While the Amazon series had traveled to Paris and the Catskills in Season 2, its latest season on the road called for perhaps a greater diversity of builds than ever before.
Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, the comedy centers on Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a housewife in the 1960s whose life takes a remarkable turn, when she decides to become a stand-up comic. In Season 3, released last December, Midge seizes upon the greatest opportunity she’s yet received in her burgeoning career, when she’s invited on tour with pop sensation Shy Baldwin (LeRoy McClain).
For four-time Emmy winner Groom, one of the inherent challenges of designing Maisel has to do with the evolution of Midge’s career, in her speedy ascent to stardom. “As Midge becomes more successful, the [performance] venues become larger,” he says. “The show sort of expands with her, as her career expands.”
In Season 3, one of the more ornate venues was in Florida—and with two episodes set against the gorgeous backdrop of Miami, an extended location shoot came into play. While Groom begins his work on each of Maisel’s seasons without a script in hand, he knew about this tour destination very early on. “So, we start thinking always, how that’s going to fit into the season,” he says, “how it’s going to fit into the look of the season, and that sort of thing.”
Before production began in New York, Groom went down to Miami to begin scouting locations. “I came back with photos of the scouting for Amy and Dan [Palladino, executive producer], and some recommendations of things that might be interesting to shoot there,” he notes. “They wrote to some of that, based on photos that I brought back.”
Ultimately, it was decided that Midge’s Miami performances would take place at the legendary Fontainebleau hotel. “[That] was sort of the place to be in the late ’50s in Miami. It’s where Sinatra always stayed, and he played the room there,” Groom says. “The biggest problem with Florida was that it was hot as hell when we were shooting there. It was unbelievable. But it looks good on screen.”
Apart from scenes in a couple of hotel rooms, all interior and exterior work was done in Miami, itself. In her time at the resort, Midge and her manager Susie (Alex Borstein) spend ample time lounging at the pool, requiring Groom to dress the area in period fashion. “We created all of the furniture around the swimming pool, all of the umbrellas, and those were big numbers because it’s a big space. So, we found a company in Florida that still makes the beach umbrellas and all of that sort of exterior furniture,” the production designer says. “They’ve been in business since the ’50s, so we drew on some of their period fabrics and that sort of thing to create them.”
While the Fontainebleau hotel served the production well in many ways, its performance space would have to be recreated elsewhere. “The room in the Fontainebleau has changed quite a lot in recent years,” Groom says. “It’s basically a big club now, and not as much a performance space.”
Fortunately, the designer happened upon a “wonderful theater” at the Faena Hotel in Miami Beach, which could double for the Fontainebleau’s. “That was [a set] that might have been done in New York, and that was suggested at one point, to reduce the shooting in Miami. But I knew that there was just nothing in New York quite like this room at the Faena Hotel,” Groom says, “so I lobbied long and hard to keep us there for the shooting of that in Miami.”
Outside of Episodes 5 and 6, a number of major performances were staged in New York, including those in Las Vegas and the USO Show that kicks off Season 3. In the case of Vegas, Groom was tasked with creating a portion of Fremont Street, one of the city’s main avenues, featuring such luxury hotels as The Golden Nugget. The scope of episodes set in Las Vegas was accentuated through the use of visual effects, particularly in driving scenes. “The cars were done at an old airfield out on Long Island. We used that as a street, and built the marquee that Midge and Susie stand in front of,” the designer explains. “Visual effects helped us with the buildings on the street, the signs and all of that. The interiors, we did here, at a space in New York, which we did a huge amount of work to.”
When it came to the USO Show, a shooting location emerged only after considering a number of different environments. “We looked at the deck of a ship that’s here in New York, at the Intrepid, which is in a naval museum. We considered [several] options, because there were many ways that those shows were presented,” Groom says. “I mentioned this airplane hangar at one point. Amy loved that idea, so that was what we had to find.”
Eventually, the Maisel team decided to set the scene at Republic Airport, out on Long Island. “There’s a hangar there that’s been turned into an aviation museum, and the people who run the museum were very helpful,” Groom shares. “They actually emptied all of the exhibits out, and gave us an empty hangar, except for a couple of planes in the background that worked for us.” To get all the details of this space right, the designer consulted experts. “We had military consultants working with us on how the show would be done, what elements you would see from the hangar,” Groom says. “This was army. Did army have planes? What kind of planes did they have? Et cetera, et cetera.”
While Groom was able to shoot at the iconic Apollo Theater for Episode 8, one of his favorite sets of the season was a Chinatown club created by Midge’s ex-husband, Joel (Michael Zegen). Sitting above a hidden gambling den, the club comes together over the course of the season, as Joel renovates the neglected space. “That’s a set that we created on stage. I based it on a place I had scouted a few years ago in Queens,” he says. “It’s kind of an abandoned space, but I love the feel of it. So, I took some details from there, in my mind, and put them together for this club.”
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