The Hot List: 6 Go-To Set Designers
MAR 31, 2015
Broadway Direct brings you the next installment in a quarterly series that highlights theater professionals who are making their marks on Broadway and beyond. Here’s a look at some of the most prominent names in set design today with upcoming productions you won't want to miss.
Only a handful of designers are lucky enough to work on Broadway regularly. Here’s look at some of the most prominent names in set design today.
Bunny Christie is one of the newest members of the Broadway club, but you can count on her being asked back, thanks to the rapturous reception for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Seeking to represent the inside of an autistic adolescent’s head, the designer came up with a highly original solution: a box set with walls and a floor made to look like graph paper, which is packed with visual surprises that underscore his unique perceptions. The Curious Incident comes from London’s National Theatre, where Christie is a mainstay; for her work there, she has won three Olivier Awards — for A Streetcar Named Desire (starring Glenn Close), The White Guard, and The Curious Incident — and one Evening Standard Award, for Baby Doll. Other clients include Donmar Warehouse, Royal Shakespeare Company, and various opera companies. This season, she also designed the West End musical Made in Dagenham, based on the Sally Hawkins film. Could her Broadway debut net her a Tony Award? It’s not impossible.
Bob Crowley also made his name at the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, debuting on Broadway with Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1987). He started racking up Tony Awards with Carousel in 1994, followed by Aida, The History Boys, The Cost of Utopia, Mary Poppins, and Once. This season on Broadway, he has The Audience, about Elizabeth II and her prime ministers; David Hare’s romantic-political drama Skylight; and a new stage version of the classic film An American in Paris. At Brooklyn Academy of Music, he designed the scalding revival of The Iceman Cometh. Crowley can do spectacle with the best of them: See the palace vistas and gilded, surprise-filled Cave of Wonders in Disney’s Aladdin. But some of his most beautiful work has been starkly simple: an Irish pub in Once and the spare, midnight-shrouded apartment in last season’s revival of The Glass Menagerie. He often plays tricks with perspective: One set in The Audience compresses several hundred feet of Buckingham Palace into a single backdrop, ending in a tiny Throne Room. It’s a classic Crowley look.
Anna Louizos made her name with a trio of musicals about New York: the mythical, puppet-populated outer-borough neighborhood of Avenue Q; the Brooklyn hipster paradise of the short-lived High Fidelity; and the uptown Latino street scene just east of the George Washington Bridge for In the Heights. (She also served as an art director on eight episodes of that most New Yorkish of TV series, Sex and the City.) Each of these merged gritty urban details with the designer’s distinctive wit. Her work on Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella demonstrated her knack for gorgeously detailed painted scenery; this year, she goes digital with expansive video projections for the new musical Honeymoon in Vegas. Next up: the wedding-day musical It Shoulda Been You, and, next season, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest, School of Rock.
A Broadway regular for nearly 20 years, Derek McLane won Tony Awards for 33 Variations, one of his intensively detailed collage settings, and for a sleek, triple-decker art deco ocean liner in Anything Goes. His sets often spill off the stage and into the house: In The Best Man, campaign bunting streamed past the proscenium, creating the atmosphere of a political convention; in Follies, he covered the entire auditorium with torn canvas and work lights, effectively transforming it into a crumbling, abandoned Broadway house. These days, he divides his time between theater and television: He designed NBC’s live presentations of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan, and he has excelled at one of show business’ most thankless jobs, designing the last two editions of the Academy Awards, nabbing an Art Directors Guild Award for the 2014 show. Currently on Broadway he has Beautiful: The Carole King Musical; in April, he adds Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi, and Living on Love, in which Renee Fleming makes her Broadway debut.
Once you design a little thing like The Book of Mormon, you’re on producers’ hot lists for life — and is there a busier designer than Scott Pask? This season alone, he has already given us a lavishly appointed Manhattan bedroom for Terrence McNally’s show business farce It’s Only a Play, and coming up in April are Finding Neverland, the new musical about J.M. Barrie and the creation of Peter Pan; Something Rotten!, a rowdy musical comedy about Shakespeare’s theatrical contemporaries; Airline Highway, with his eye-popping two-level rendering of a Louisiana motel exterior; and The Visit, starring Chita Rivera as the darkly mysterious billionaire who returns to her hometown to make a chilling proposition. Any free time is spent designing Off-Broadway, for various opera companies, in London; he also did the Cirque du Soleil touring spectacular Amaluna. He has Tonys for The Pillowman, The Coast of Utopia (a codesign with Crowley), and The Book of Mormon.
David Rockwell was a celebrity architect/designer for his restaurants and bars — including the many outposts of the Nobu empire — before finally realizing his dream to be a Broadway designer, with the 2001 revival of The Rocky Horror Show. Since then, he hasn’t looked back, creating outrageously amusing sets for Hairspray, Legally Blonde, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, not to mention his starkly gripping environment for a revival of The Normal Heart. Earlier this season, he won plaudits for his haunting rendition of a seedy, freak-filled carnival in Side Show. Currently, he is winning applause for the sleek art deco train interiors seen in On the Twentieth Century. Amazingly, he does all this while continuing to run one of New York’s most sought-after design firms; current projects include a new Virgin Hotel in Chicago and a redesign of Newark Airport’s Terminal C in New Jersey.
Top photo: The cast of Gigi. Credit: Margot Schulman