Tony & Emmy-Winning Designer Derek McLane Talks About 10 Sets That Shaped His Career
April 3rd, 2015
by Derek McLane
Derek McLane is a Tony Award (33 Variations) and Emmy Award (2014 Academy Awards) winning scenic designer whose work can currently be seen in the musical adaptation of Gigi, the comedy Living on Love, off-Broadway’s Into the Woods and the big hit Beautiful.
And soon, McLane will have the musical Ever After at Paper Mill and the David Mamet play China Doll on Broadway. For TV, he’s designed for the Oscars and the NBC Live musicals Peter Pan and The Sound of Music. With over 30 Broadway shows to his credit and countless off-Broadway ones, clearly we are talking about one of New York’s most high demand designers, so it was a real treat to hear McLane look back on 10 special projects and designs.
Set of Mine I’d Want to Move Into:
I wouldn’t mind living in the set for Living On Love. It is a Park Avenue apartment in 1957, decorated as if it was in Paris. It isn’t really my personality (it is based on that of the characters), but it is really luxurious.
Set I’d Like to Be Remembered For/ My Signature Set:
That is a tough one—I change my mind about it from time to time. But I would l think I would say 33 Variations. Or maybe I Am My Own Wife. Or maybe…
Broadway Design I’d Like to Have Another Crack at Now:
The play Honour, which I designed in 1998. I would design it much more poetically and romantically if I could do it again.
Set That Was Most Unexpected or Changed from Its Original Concept:
I designed a set for Company at the Sondheim Festival at the Kennedy Center in 2002. I struggled with all sorts of ideas related to invoking the period for quite some time. And then I had an epiphany, literally in the middle of the night, an idea to try and create the sense of anxiety the character Bobby was experiencing. I made a dimensional version of large New York skyscrapers, turned on their sides. Hard to describe, but if you look up a photo, you will see what I mean.
Regional Set I Wish New York Got to See:
There was a production of a Feydeau farce, A Flea In Her Ear that I did an number of years ago at the Alley Theatre that had a very clever transition and look going in to the final act that I was very proud of.
Set I Made the Most of on a Tight Budget:
The most recent revival of Follies at the Marquis Theater. The story takes place in an abandoned Broadway Theatre, destined for demolition. I was desperate to find a way to make the audience feel that when they walked into the very modern Marquis, and we didn’t have very much money for that. The solution was to used hundreds of yards of grey fabric, and treat it to look they were old construction drop cloths.
With Peter Pan & Sound of Music, Is There Another Iconic Musical You’re Dying to Reimagine?
I’d love to design The Pajama Game for television.
An Oscars Set Detail I Am Most Proud Of:
I was really pleased with what I call the “Twisty Towers’ from the most recent show. There were these very tall towers made of steel and brass lattice work that were actually twisted over there length. They also slowly spun during parts of the show. The engineering was very difficult, but I thought they looked pretty magical.
Set of Someone Else’s That I Will Never Forget Seeing:
Bob Crowley’s set for Carousel at Lincoln Center is one of the most beautiful I have seen.
Set That Stretched or Challenged Me Most as an Artist:
The set I designed for Beautiful was a huge challenge. The show moves from small offices to showy musical performances regularly, and finding a way to make those transitions happen magically, and to figure out to make a series of small offices look interesting was something I worked very hard at.