Andy Has Designs on Idaho!

Wednesday June 30, 2016.

IDAHO! The Comedy Musical, a Smith Center production in Reynolds Hall July 6-17, is written by Buddy Sheffield with music by Buddy Sheffield and local Las Vegan Keith Thompson. But, there’s another local involved in this hilarious takeoff on Broadway musicals: Andy Walmsley, the set designer.

Myron Martin, President and CEO of The Smith Center, contacted Walmsley about designing sets for this original show that could go to Broadway. “I’m actually the only set designer who lives in Las Vegas, which, to me, blows my mind because I obviously came from London, where there’s at least a hundred set designers and I’m sure there’s at least  a hundred or more in New York and L.A., says Walmsley. “I’m it, I’m the only set designer.”

And, that was important from Martin’s perspective, according to Walmsley. “I do know he’s very keen on, as much as possible, this being a Vegas show, meaning I designed it and I live here. It’s being built locally. Often sets are not built in Vegas, they’re built in L.A. and shipped here,” he says.

IDAHO! The Comedy Musical reflects the golden age of Rogers and Hammerstein as well as other composers and lyricists of that time. Walmsley has designed sets for Oklahoma!, so it was a natural fit for him.

Walmsley designed the set around the show’s narrative, a love story, albeit a hilarious one. Audiences say howdy to Cassie Purdy, a mail-order bride from Ohio, who arrives in Idaho to marry the notorious Jed Strunk, a real toad gagger who’s got the personality of a festered wart and enough money to buy every last spud in town. The problem: Cassie first meets the handsome Whip Masters, falls in love with him instead of Strunk, and sets in motion a whirlwind of events that ends in three couples either discovering or re-discovering the loves of their lives.

He designed the show with the look of Western musicals, “the Marlboro country sky, the big sweeping panoramic blue sky,” but with the added Walmsley touch of painting it on old wooden planking, “almost like Judy Garland putting on a show. It’s made to feel rustic, just thrown together, but in a slick, professional way.”

After completing his designs, he presented them to the principals and they were accepted (unlike his work in television, where a committee of executives usually gets involved).  “We have a moon, a lightbox of a moon, that flies in and that’s the only thing we changed, and it was suggested that, ‘Oh, why don’t you make it a potato?’, which was genius. I wish I could claim I had thought of that. So, we have a potato moon that, when you first see it is a moon and then you look at it and you can see it’s a potato.”

Walmsley designed sets for both the Las Vegas run and the potential Broadway run. Because the show is hilarious on its own, Walmsley’s challenge was to create sets that complement, but not overshadow, the story or the cast. “They don’t want the show to work because the set was good. If people come out and say that show was great with a basic set…then we know we’ve got something.”

Walmsley has been working on the project for 18 months and believes he has a unique perspective. Since the cast has been rehearsing off-stage, “It’s like a privileged, inside knowledge that I know what it’s going to look like, probably more than anyone,” he says. “The best part for me is when they come on stage for the first time. It’s always like the biggest ego-stroking moment for me because everyone always comes on and goes, ‘Wow, oh my god.’ That’s when I get all my compliments and then they all forget about me and I never get a compliment again,” Walmsley laughs.

It’s that infectious British-Las Vegas humor of Walmsley that is a perfect match for the cast and production team of IDAHO! The Comedy Musical.

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