Broadway By Design: Michael Yeargan, Catherine Zuber, Donald Holder & Marc Salzberg Bring MY FAIR LADY from Page to Stage
Who is Annie without her red dress? Or Eva with out her balcony? It is the charge of the Broadway designer to transport the audience into the world of a show, whether it be Great Depression-era New York City or outside of the Casa Rosada.
In Broadway by Design, BroadwayWorld is shining a spotlight on the stellar designs of this Broadway season, show by show. Today, we continue the series with Michael Yeargan, Catherine Zuber, Donald Holder and Marc Salzberg, who acted as scenic, costume, lighting and sound designers for Lincoln Center Theater's classic revival, My Fair Lady.
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play and Gabriel Pascal's motion picture Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, with a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lernerand music by Frederick Loewe, premiered on Broadway on March 15, 1956. The legendary original production won 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical and ran for 2,717 performances making it, at the time, the longest-running musical in Broadway history.
So where does the design process begin in bringing such a classic back to life in 2018? Scenic designer Michael Yeargan began simply with the time and place. "[I was inspired by] the city of London itself, through the lens of 1913 - paintings, architecture, and literature."
Transporting the audience from a lush Edwardian study to the Covent Garden streets proved a challenge, however. "The multiple, extremely diverse settings, and the necessity of quick scene changes [was difficult]," says Yeargan.
Costume designer Catherine Zuber found that meeting the expectations of the audience was her single biggest hurdle.
Zuber crafted Eliza's opening look around one of the show's most iconic lines. "This design illustrates another direction a woman in Eliza's position could take. 'I'm a good girl, I am' emphasizes Eliza's anxiety over being perceived as a prostitute. The inspiration came from photographic research of the time," says Zuber.
Lighting designer Donald Holder took advantage of his time abroad to begin his design plans. "I was coincidentally working in London during the summer and fall prior to starting on MY FAIR LADY, and paid particular attention to light of the city, took the opportunity to walk through Covent Garden and Tottenham Court Road in the very early mornings and late at night. There's a particular quality to the light, the weather and the energy of the place that certainly influenced and inspired my choices," says Holder.
Where did he face his biggest challenges? "The scale of the production and the cinematic approach of the movement from location to location presented a substantial challenge for us. Crafting the light to reveal the two story, revolving Higgins house with scenes unfolding while this massive unit was in a continuous state of motion was a particularly daunting task."
For sound designer Marc Salzberg, the vision was simple: "My goal was to stay out of the way and be as invisible as I could; allowing the audience to focus on the actors, and not notice the sound," he explains. "My biggest challenge was one I can't tell you without a spoiler warning. After you see the show, you'll think you know what it was, but even then you'd be wrong. Hopefully, you'll never know!"
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Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady features a cast of 37 headed by Lauren Ambrose, Harry Hadden-Paton, Norbert Leo Butz, Diana Rigg, Allan Corduner, Jordan Donica, Linda Mugleston, and Manu Narayan. Harry Hadden-Paton and Diana Rigg are appearing with the support of Actors' Equity Association.
Boasting a score that contains such now-classic songs as "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Get Me to the Church on Time," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "On the Street Where You Live," "The Rain in Spain," and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," My Fair Ladywas hailed by The New York Times as "one of the best musicals of the century," by the Christian Science Monitor as "a work of theatre magic," and by the NY Herald Tribune as "a miraculous musical."