Broad­way de­signer looks to mu­si­cals for Os­car-set in­spi­ra­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK — The folks be­hind Hol­ly­wood’s glitzi­est night have im­ported some help this year — from Broad­way.

Tony-win­ning de­signer Derek McLane, much sought-af­ter for his use of un­likely ma­te­ri­als in sub­lime pat­terns, has been tapped to put to­gether the set for the 85th Academy Awards tele­cast.

“This is the first time I’ve ever de­signed any kind of awards show and cer­tainly this is the big­gest view­er­ship of any­thing I’ve ever done,” he said by phone from in­side the Dolby The­atre in Los An­ge­les.

Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, pro­duc­ers of the Os­cars, asked McLane if he’d lend his ex­per­tise af­ter im­press­ing them with his work on How to Suc­ceed in Busi­ness With­out Really Try­ing with Daniel Rad­cliffe, a show they also pro­duced.

“One of the things they said about the Os­cars is that they really hoped that I would de­sign some­thing that looked com­pletely unique and com­pletely new and did not look like any other Os­car show they’d ever seen,” McLane said.

McLane’s other cred­its in­clude the re­cent re­vival of The Heiress with Jes­sica Chas­tain, the cur­rent Nice Work If You Can Get It with Matthew Brod­er­ick, the last re­vivals of Gore Vi­dal’s The Best Man and Fol­lies, and the Tony-win­ning re­vival of Any­thing Goes.

“We think he’s one of the most in­ven­tive de­sign­ers there is and we wanted to give him an op­por­tu­nity to really strut his stuff,” said Meron. “I don’t think there’s any bet­ter place than the Os­car stage.”

One of McLane’s big­gest tri­umphs was the set for 33 Vari­a­tions, a play about a ter­mi­nally ill mu­si­col­o­gist that starred Jane Fonda. The show earned McLane a Tony for one of his trade­marks: the use of or­di­nary ob­jects clus­tered in stun­ning ways. The set had thou­sands of small card­board boxes and hun­dreds of pages of sheet mu­sic, all lit sub­limely.

“I like the abil­ity to cre­ate that kind of magic out of the or­di­nary,” he said.

For the Os­cars, McLane was tasked with hon­our­ing the grandeur and splen­dour of the event but also in­ject­ing a bit of his wit, too.

This year, the Os­cars are paying trib­ute to the mu­sic of the movies — scores, songs and mu­si­cals — so McLane went back­ward. “I really looked to the golden age of movie mu­si­cals in this coun­try, which is the 1930s and ’40s,” he said.

While much of the Os­car set is still un­der wraps, an im­age of McLane’s prosce­nium has been re­leased. It features more than a thou­sand — 1,051, to be pre­cise — replica Os­car stat­uettes, each a lit­tle larger than the real award. Each is nes­tled in its own cub­by­hole and can be lit sep­a­rately or in sec­tions as needed. The show cur­tain is in­spired by Busby Berke­ley movie mu­si­cals.

While McLane wouldn’t re­veal any more, he did men­tion tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from his own apart­ment, where on one wall he has in­stalled 35 in­dus­trial lamps all fac­ing the same di­rec­tion and up against an an­tique mir­ror.

“I like the fact that when you look at each one of th­ese in­di­vid­ual lamps, they just look like a sort of or­di­nary, in­dus­trial lamp that is, quite frankly, the last thing in the world that you would think of as warm. And yet, to­gether as a pat­tern, they cre­ate some­thing that I think is mag­i­cal and beau­ti­ful.”

McLane has had to ad­just to the size of the 3,400-seat Dolby The­atre — much larger than the big­gest Broad­way the­atre — and the need for his set to be both pleas­ing from far away and in TV close-ups. He and a team in Novem­ber tested how the set would look by mak­ing par­tial repli­cas and train­ing video cam­eras on them.

He said he’s been en­joy­ing his L.A. visit but he prom­ises his head won’t be turned by Hol­ly­wood. The day af­ter the tele­cast, McLane is due back in New York to work on his set for the up­com­ing play Break­fast at Tif­fany’s.

“I’d love to be able to do more of this,” he says, “but I feel like Broad­way’s my home and I wouldn’t leave it for the world.”


Above, the set de­sign for the Academy Awards by Derek McLane (be­low) features 1,051 repli­cas of the Os­car stat­uette.

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