April 12, 2024

How the wild, over-the-top Havana party came to life

Every episode of Palm Royale (streaming weekly on Wednesdays on Apple TV+) is a visual feast, with colorful cocktails, opulent interiors and dresses in exuberant colors and fabrics you might not have known existed. For a series set in the tony enclave of Palm Beach in 1969, that alone could have been enough eye candy for viewers to enjoy. When planning the fourth episode, “Maxine Rolls The Dice,” showrunner Abe Sylvia and choreographer Brooke Lipton instead thought, “What if we did that?” more and went taller?” The maximalist result is a dazzling, over-the-top 15-minute set piece at a fundraising gala featuring 14 showgirls, a host of backup dancers and multiple partner changes during an extended rhumba for the entire party. Oh, and the scene provides plenty of forward momentum for the increasingly complicated plot operations that main character Maxine Dellacorte (Kristen Wiig) finds herself both reacting to and occasionally generating herself.

The fourth episode is the centerpiece of the series; Maxine’s crash course in the country club politics of Palm Beach’s apparently ultra-rich doyennes pays off in some ways and shows her how much she doesn’t know in others. As the women jockey for status as the queenliest social queen bee, she has prompted them to support her application for membership at the strictly exclusive Palm Royale. Now Maxine finds herself in yet another predicament: finally becoming the conservator of her husband’s wealthy, comatose Aunt Norma (Carol Burnett), but she loses the money needed to attend a series of mandatory, conned galas while she prepares to throw the biggest party of the year with Evelyn Rollins (Allison Janney). Playfully and awkwardly running across the dance floor, shifting the conversational gears through multiple partner changes, whispered threats and shared confidences is a perfect visual metaphor for Maxine’s risky juggling act.

Every moment of the Havana Nights themed party is packed with movement or richly textured color, and we’re usually treated to both. Maxine’s technicolor floral headdress might just drop her into the pool as she half-rumba, half-run across the bridge in the center of the ballroom! But wait, more than a dozen showgirls wearing sequins, satin and feathers burst into the room as the band increases the volume and tempo! Who can focus on those glamorous ladies when Robert (Ricky Martin) and his effortlessly swiveling hips entice a fuchsia-clad Raquel (Claudia Ferri) to part with a ruby ​​necklace they both know belongs to Norma! Even quieter moments, such as Evelyn delivering scathing quips worthy of Dorothy Parker as she coolly surveys the ballroom from a corner balcony, never threaten the scene’s momentum, thanks to the dozens (actually 200) backup dancers who sway back and forth and spinning around. everything they are worth.

Sylvia and Lipton spoke with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed to explain how they brought the many moving parts of this extravaganza to the screen with such depth and height. Sylvia, a self-described musical theater kid who turned from Broadway stages to screens, knew early in the script process that “Maxine Rolls The Dice” would be “a wonderful moment to have one of these balls where everyone is dancing anyway, to create a crazy farce around the rumba.” Incorporating multiple dance partner changes would create unexpected combinations, offering “a new and fresh way to bring our intertwined stories together.”

Kristen Wiig and Ricky Martin

Beth Dubber/Apple TV+

Bringing a maximalist vision to life

Pushing so hard for the sake of the plot’s forward momentum was entirely optional: Sylvia could just as easily have reused settings like the Palm Royale steam room or the golf course to weave his storylines, but as he explains, “I guess how from a story is just as important in this show as the story itself. So from the costumes to the sets in the series, I’m thinking, ‘What makes this scene so unique? Palm Royale scene? What sets it apart? What makes it maximalist?’” Realizing this vision and raising the stakes required a unique space. After an outdoor location in Beverly Hills was deemed too unpredictable, the scene – complete with a custom-built swimming pool topped by a curved bridge for even more visual volume – was shot over four days in one of the ballrooms of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles .

When Sylvia saw the alternate space, he immediately noticed “a showgirl on each balcony” and several others wandering around the room serving cocktails. Even in a ballroom full of color and texture, the custom-made costumes for each dancer stand out as a riot of feathers, tassels, sequins, ruffles, and lamé, all in hot tropical shades of yellow, orange, pink, and fuchsia. Choreographer Lipton’s experience in creating dance numbers that look particularly good on TV, honed by her years of experience with series such as cheerfulness–was essential; she knows how to fill the frame with captivating movements and flourishes that “but bigger, bigger, taller”, she says every time.

Casting professional dancers for every role except the speaking parts added to the visual abundance of each moment of heightened reality. Sylvia credits Lipton with much of the scene’s visual cohesion, adding that her “Rolodex of badass dancers, who brought so much life, integrity, chemistry and humor to their work” provided an essential soup of physical grace. In fact, all the background performers in dance scenes and tracking shots in the series are professional dancers, a choice Sylvia made ‘because of the way they behave and the beauty of their gestures’, making them essential in showing what a “lofty, elegant world” they created.

Getting the movements and lines just right

The cast of top-notch comedic actors, including Allison Janney, Leslie Bibb and Julia Duffy, needed both rehearsal time and the flexibility to make adjustments on set as necessary. During the shoot, Lipton balanced a multitude of priorities, including timing, space, budget, efficiency and movement, to match the energy of the characters and the scene as a whole. Her iterative process involved creating and revising choreography that was fully integrated with the script to prioritize the actors’ need to ensure their lines were delivered and to avoid getting stuck on things like “a silly arm movement that doesn’t make any sense” for their characters. . It worked so well that Wiig often learned her choreography from her stand-in right before capturing each of her many moments on camera. Sylvia described her amazement at witnessing this, noting that “Kristen’s performance has a spontaneity that is truly exciting.”

A cavalcade of comedic moments throughout the set rises to ever greater heights, thanks to the outrageousness of everything that happens. Maxine dances with five partners in 15 minutes, none more memorable than the daffy, yet slightly terrifying Mary Davidsoul, played by Julia Duffy. Fans of classic sitcoms from the 80s and 90s will fondly remember Duffy from her roles in Nieuwhart And Women design, and you won’t be at all surprised to learn that she participated in the choreography that Lipton and Duffy’s stand-in dancer Jessica Keller designed for her dance with Wiig. Because Duffy is so small, her choreography initially included a lot of “little mannerisms,” but during rehearsal, Lipton says, she was “so aggressive!” We realized, ‘Oh, we’ve been dancing a little small.'” Duffy’s knack for finding unexpectedly off-kilter moments comes to the fore when she unnerves Wiig’s Maxine by grabbing her unnecessarily tightly as she performs the “boys” portion of their rhumba dances.

Allison Janney holds up a drink in a still from 'Palm Royale'

The secret ingredient is sincerity

When asked about the campiness of Palm RoyaleSylvia is reflective and thoughtful, noting that the term suffers a bit from overuse. Besides, “the real camp doesn’t know it’s a camp, and there’s a purpose in what we’re doing here.” He considers Palm Royale as consisting of a long lineage of pastiche in queer filmmaking, “where you borrow from all of pop culture, you throw everything into a blender and form a new aesthetic.” Sylvia’s touchpoints include the Doris Day and Rock Hudson classic Pillow talk and the films of Douglas Sirk and Todd Haynes, but he credits award-winning queer Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar as his main influence.

“The tone of his films swings from melodrama to whimsy, to magical realism, back to soap opera. and a thriller on top of it,” he says. “There’s something about borrowing from the past and filtering it through our own personal lens that I’ve always admired and responded to in his work.”

Like his forebears, Sylvia handles his over-the-top characters with care and always takes them seriously, “so even though we’re witty and chewing the scenery” with such exuberant, loud visuals and escalating juicy storylines, “the emotional reality and the pathos is still there,” he says. Sylvia feels particularly happy with the choice of Kristen Wiig as his leading actress, whose performance he considers “magical.” She wants so badly to get caught up in a very superficial world, but “even when she plays her big, farcical characters, the reason people find her so funny is because she’s actually very real. In addition to the fantasy and whimsy, there is also real pathos in everything she does.”

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