The Creative Minds behind discoshow

The idea of doing a show about disco had been burning in the background for almost seven years by the time tickets for DiscoShow went on sale and construction of a new Spiegelworld venue began on the Las Vegas Strip. 

“I can’t wait until we open,” said Spiegelworld’s Impresario Extraodinaire Ross Mollison. “I think Vegas is going to go crazy for this. There really is nothing like this in the world.”

The music is core. However, Ross was also fascinated by the disco’s origin story, set against the background of New York at a time when the economy was in trouble, personal freedoms were oppressed, and President Ford famously told the city to drop dead. In 1970, the DJ David Mancuso began holding all-night parties in his loft. The joyful spirit of those events were inspired by the parties the nuns used to put on at his childhood orphanage, complete with colored balloons on the ceiling. Mancuso added a psychedelic flavor, but the main focus was on perfecting the sound system and exploring the innovations that were occurring when vinyl records were mixed to provide a continuous sound and beat, allowing people to lose themselves in the music. It was a safe space where his friends and their friends could come together, forget their troubles, be themselves, and dance. 

“The minute you start to look at disco beyond the immediate sheen of it, it’s really fascinating,” said DiscoShow director Steven Hoggett. “It’s an incredible part of New York history and the early ‘70s.”

The cultural movement quickly gained momentum and soon disco was a global phenomenon which dominated the decade, before the infamous Disco Demolition Night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park saw disco records blown up, and an ensuing hate-filled riot.  But disco never died, a fact now being celebrated with DiscoShow opening in Las Vegas in late July 2024.

The show’s choreographer and associate director Yasmine Lee said, “Disco clubs became havens of inclusivity, where people could escape societal norms and celebrate life through music, dance, and fashion. Disco culture has always fostered a sense of belonging and community, and that inspired us to create this show, encouraging togetherness and communal joy in performers and audiences alike.”

A renowned movement director and choreographer based in London, Steven developed an international reputation from his work with the innovative theatre company Frantic Assembly which he co-founded in Wales thirty years ago. He went on to win the 2009 Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreographer for his collaboration on the National Theatre of Scotland’s acclaimed production of Black Watch. This led to Steven’s explosion of work on both sides of the Atlantic on productions such as American Idiot, Peter and The Starcatcher, Once, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Spiegelworld first collaborated with Steven on a development project nearly a decade ago. Ross Mollison said, “That prior investigation used acrobatics and movement to explore the interactions among characters in a hotel lobby. We loved getting to know Steven and his approach to circus, which unlocked many ideas for us about how movement can be used to create deeply emotional, funny and uplifting storytelling. While that project sadly didn’t progress, I remember saying to Steven at the time… ‘what do you think about doing a show on disco?’ His eyes lit up instantly.”

Fast forward twelve months, and Steven Hoggett and Spiegelworld were back in the laboratory together. The location was La Mama, the famed experimental theatre in New York City.  But for several sweltering hot weeks in the summer of 2018, it became the Glitterloft, the disco venue at the heart of a new workshop production, initially titled We Are Here.

For the development workshop, Steven assembled a team of his regular collaborators and friends. Prolific London-based playwright Michael Wynne had numerous plays produced at the Royal Court Theatre including The Priory which won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. His work on the film My Summer Love starring Emily Blunt had won the Evening Standard Award for Best Screenplay and BAFTA for Best British Film.

Steven and Michael were too young to have been on the dancefloor when disco hit its first peak in the 1970s, but as regular patrons of London’s Horsemeat Disco, they brought along a shared passion for today’s new wave of disco innovators.

Building layers of character, story and emotion through movement, Steven has a distinct methodology for selecting performers, and tapping into their essence during the creative process. It is always a rich collaboration. New York-based choreographer and multi-disciplinary movement-centred artist Yasmine Lee had worked across film, television, theater, music video, concerts and major international events.  She had joined forces with Steven as associate choreographer on numerous productions including Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, Once, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Social! The Social Distance Dance Club (with David Byrne), and more recently A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical. She was an essential pick for Steven’s team as choreographer and associate director on the disco workshop.

From the very early discussions with Spiegelworld, a strong design idea for DiscoShow had emerged. What if the story of disco was told through the eyes of the everyday people who were there, and the audience were made to feel like they were there with them?  What if the audience found themselves in a huge box, where every wall and the floor were made of LED video panels? The music starts. What would happen? 

That’s what the workshop of We Are Here was designed to investigate. It would require a significant investment and a unique alliance between production, scenic, lighting and video design to create the test environment in which Steven, Michael and Yasmine could make a show. 

So, next to be brought on board was acclaimed Broadway costume and scenic designer David Zinn who had earned numerous Tony nominations for his work on productions including Kimberley Akimbo and Fun Home, winning the Tony for Best Scenic Design for Spongebob Squarepants. David’s deep knowledge of the history of disco in New York and its visual aesthetic would prove invaluable.

London-based lighting designer Natasha Chivers had worked with Steven many times on Frantic Assembly productions in the early days. She went on to become one of the most in-demand lighting designers from the West End to Broadway, winning the 2007 Olivier Award for Sunday In The Park With George and the 2023 Tony Award for the play Prima Facie. With a venue made of floor-to-ceiling video screens, Natasha’s work on lighting the disco project was a huge challenge and required a close collaboration with New York-based video designer Darrell Maloney.

Darrell’s projection and video design work had been seen in diverse projects around the world with Broadway productions including American Idiot, The Cher Show and On Your Feet. In the disco project, he was tasked with creating imagery which would be as important to telling the story as the performers and the music. Using a sophisticated system of timecode, Natasha’s lighting and Darrell’s video had to work together with the sound to create the overall sensory environment in which the performers and audience would come together. 

Which brings us to the music, the real essence of the disco experience. UK sound designer Tom Gibbons was brought to New York for the 2018 workshop. He will continue to work as soundscape designer on the new Vegas production, alongside regular Spiegelworld sound designer Colle Bustin. Another regular Spiegelworld creative team member is music producer Jamie Siegel who is assembling the entire soundtrack for the show incorporating a playlist of original disco classics.

“I always liked the idea of music having that sense of different streams of influence flying over each other,” Steven said. “We are all familiar with the hits like Le Freak, I Will Survive, Good Times, We Are Family and Disco Inferno. But to be able to pick out the genius details and feel these songs wrap around you through an incredible sound system was the revelation of the workshop, and it will sound even better in the Vegas production. Their influence is still heard in the music of today.” 

After several weeks of Discoshow technical development and rehearsals and five nights of public performances, the ecstatic reaction to the New York workshop proved the experiment was a success, and work began on bringing the idea to Las Vegas.

“I am delighted that the entire creative team who made that original workshop production of We Are Here in 2018 is returning to work on the Las Vegas production of what is now DiscoShow in 2024,” said Ross Mollison. “Not only are they internationally acclaimed masters in their fields, they all have a passion for the world of disco. The thing that happened during that workshop period is we all kind of fell in love with each other. Everybody is aware of everybody else’s talent and is excited by that.’  

Video designer Darrell Maloney was so enthusiastic, he decided to bring his airstream caravan, his partner Amy, and their two dogs to live in Spiegelworld’s own circus town of Nipton for the duration of the Vegas production period. It’s one hour drive from Vegas but living in the open desert is giving Darrell the creative headspace he needs for the incredible amount of work ahead for the launch of DiscoShow.  

“Darrell knows this is going to be fun,” Ross said. “Having seen the results of the workshop and the impact on those test audiences six years ago, the whole creative team knows the exciting potential of the expanded Vegas production. They have patiently stuck with this project through all the ups and downs and delays in trying to find the right home for this show in Vegas, including the interruption of a global pandemic. The music of disco, and the joy of togetherness that disco encourages, is what I think we all need right now after years of fracture and separation. DiscoShow will deliver that.