IN CASE THE line of lusty, chiffon–draped chorus girls hadn’t tipped you off, John Myhre would like to point out that this scene is “pretty hot.” The production designer and Nathan Hale High grad won art direction Oscars for his work on director Rob Marshall’s first two cinematic forays, and he’s shooting for a third with their latest collaboration, this month’s Nine. The film stars Daniel Day–Lewis as a director who reflects on the women in his life (Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, etc.) as he rides a midlife crisis into the biggest film of his career. Myhre broke down the steamy—and sandy—design elements of this negligee–draped show tune, “Be Italian.”

PAINT IT BLACK (AND RED)

Marshall digs red and black (have you seen Chicago or Memoirs of a Geisha?), but that’s not why Myhre bathed this scene in them. Nine serves up 10 song–and–dance numbers, and Myhre wanted each to have its own look and story to tell; here we have the tarted–up tale of Saraghina, a prostitute whom fictional director Guido Contini crushes on as a boy. “Red is just such a sexy color,” Myhre says.

STAGE AND SCREAM

Literally speaking, the set is a haphazard, under–construction mash–up of Roman arches and columns Guido commissions for his new movie. Figuratively, it’s the architectural manifestation of the director’s manic, disjointed state of mind. “That set is Guido Contini,” Myhre says. “If he could just get himself together, it would be magnificent. But even as a mess, it’s still a little magnificent—but it’s a little dangerous.”

WHAT A PRO

Front and center in the frame is Fergie, of the Black Eyed Peas, who plays the carnal object of a young Guido’s affection. When we meet her, in the director’s black–and–white flashback, she’s slumming it in a bombed–out beachfront bunker on the Mediterranean. But then the scene abruptly shifts to the soundstage in the present, and “when the lights come on and the girls come out,” Myhre says, “this is what might just be going through Guido’s mind.”

NOT–SO–EASY CHAIRS

Notice anything about the dancers’ chairs? They’re all different. In a typical dance scene, Myhre would opt for a traditional bentwood dance chair. This time he needed a variety of seat styles to create a found–object vibe and sell the flotsam–filled beach fantasy. And for that “just washed up” look, his crew wrapped them in leather, slapped them with patches, and mucked them up with a faux–mildew patina.

PLAYA DEL FERGIE

To recreate the Italian beach from Guido’s memory, Myhre trucked in six tons of white sand…and promptly upped the order to 16 tons when Marshall saw what a kick the dancers got out of getting down in the nitty–gritty. The crew did its best to clean up the mess, Myhre says, but he won’t guarantee they got every grain: “I bet I could go back to that stage in 40 years and still find sand from ‘Be Italian.’ ”

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