BWW EXCLUSIVE: Tony-Winning Set Designer Derek McLane Takes On the OSCARS

February 20
8:37 2013

You know I don't have any one favorite set. I fall in love with pretty much every show that I do while I'm doing it and some sets stay with me more than others, like those sets I just mentioned are some of my favorites. But there are many others that I'm really fond of. And I suppose that kind of lift is always changing a little bit.

Who do you feel are some of the people who influenced or inspired you throughout your career?

Well there are a lot of directors I've worked with who have been really inspirational. They've pushed me to do great things and I really appreciated that. There are also some designers that I worked with a long,long time ago when I first started. I apprenticed with Robin Wagner and that was an amazing experiencing. I learned a huge amount from him about not only how to approach a show but also how to deal with a lot of the people involved in a production. So Robin Wagner was one of the first people I assisted when I came to New York and he's remained a friend since.

Is there a musical you would love to see come back to Broadway so you could have a shot at designing the set?

(laughing) That's a great question. I've always wanted to design 'Oklahoma.' That's a favorite of mine.

Is there one specific element that appears in all of your designs, sort of a trademark of your work?

Not always, because every production is different. You know I just designed 'The Heiress' which is really quite a realistic set and some of the things that I like to do in sort of abstract design I couldn't possibly have done in 'The Heiress'. I have a fascination with repeating objects. That certainly was a theme in '33 Variations' and it certainly was a theme in 'I Am My Own Wife' and it's also a theme in this Oscar design, in the proscenium, which I think is perhaps a signature of mine, with the repeating objects, in this case repeating Oscars. Each one of those will be beautifully lit so that as individual objects they'll be gorgeous, but also, as a pattern they'll be amazing.

BWW EXCLUSIVE: Tony-Winning Set Designer Derek McLane Takes On the OSCARS

Rendering of 2013 OSCAR Set

And that leads me to my next question - what role does lighting play when you are designing?

Oh it's huge, it's absolutely huge. I always collaborate very intensely with the lighting designer because something like that can only be brought to life in the way that you light it - and that's sort of the technique of taking an object that wouldn't otherwise look like anything and sort of turning it into something gorgeous.

In my apartment in New York, I have this wall of lamps that I created, it's kind of an installation which I feel very much exemplifies that idea. It's about 35 industrial lamps, they're made out of cast iron most of them, but I've got them all arranged each in its own cubby, and they're all arranged so that they're aiming in the same direction. And they're backed with antique mirror. What I like about it is that the objects themselves are industrial, but because they all emit this sort of beautiful glow of light, each one has a dim, clear incandescent bulb in it, they create a very romantic landscape on the wall, but out of objects that you wouldn't ordinarily associate with that.

It sounds like a work of art.

It is, I think so. I'm sort of fascinated by that. That tension between the objects that are plain but can be made, in the right arrangement, to be absolutely gorgeous.

Do the costumes go hand in hand with the design as well?

Absolutely. I mean it depends on the project. Some shows, the costumes are enormously important and some shows the costumes are more realistic, or less a part of the design. But usually on a highly designed world, the costumes are also highly designed and so that becomes a very, very important collaboration.

BWW EXCLUSIVE: Tony-Winning Set Designer Derek McLane Takes On the OSCARS


I read that you've been involved with Barry Manilow in his original musical 'Harmony.' Are there any updates as far as if and when it might come to Broadway?

You know I don't know the answer to that. I know there's talk about it but I'm not sure what the latest is. But I know it will be great because it's a beautiful piece and I hope people will get to see it. And I hope I will get to work on it.

Well best of luck and I'm really looking forward to Sunday's show.

Thank you - me too!

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

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Caryn Robbins Caryn Robbins is a features editor for BroadwayWorld, and Managing Editor of BWW's TV, Film and Music spin-off sites. Her original musical comedy DEAR PROSPECTIVE STUDENT (follow @DearStudent) has been staged in two NYC theater festivals and was performed as an Equity Staged Reading in New York City in 2015. This June DEAR PROSPECTIVE STUDENT won 'Best Ensemble Show' in Chicago's Premier Premieres Festival. Follow Caryn on Twitter @CarynRobbins
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