Sets, Lights, & Lunacy: A Stage Designer's Adventures on Broadway and in Opera
By: Lloyd Burlingame
Publication Date: September 2013
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: October 28, 2013
Love Broadway? Love the opera? Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes? In his new book about his life as a stage designer, author Lloyd Burlingame gives the reader an inside look at the stars, directors, producers, investors, and just about everybody else involved in the business.
Burlingame begins his story sharing his love of the theatre with the reader, and explaining how his love of the stage began at a very early age. His first job, at the tender age of twelve, was to clean the horse stables on the ground floor of a summer theatre. Eventually it was time for college where he learned his trade, then off to the military, and then, more study in Italy on a Fulbright Scholarship. Back home in New York, Burlingame quickly found employment working as a staff designer for CBS. But his real love was Broadway and that's where he soon landed his dream job of working as an assistant for designer Jo Meilziner.
Burlingame chronicles his career from the early 60s, through the late 80s when a medical condition required that he slow down. (I suspect, however, that while Burlingame may have slowed down a bit, the theatre was in his blood so he never completely left.) During those decades, the author was able to realize his goals of creating scenery, lighting, and costumes for some of the most well-known plays on Broadway, and almost realizing all his goals for the opera, that of "designing all the mature Mozart operas."
Honored in 2012 with the Robert Tobin Award for Sustained Excellence in Design, Burlingame has built an amazing career within his two loves - Broadway and the opera. His talent was widely known and kept him very busy and thus there is a lot for him to tell in his book. Story upon story about the crazy, funny, odd, and sometimes heartwarming exploits of a stage designer's life, fill this book to the rafters. His dedication was proved early on while in the Army when he needed four days to finish the scenery for an off-Broadway play. When he learned that having a wisdom tooth pulled would get him a day off, and gosh, he had four of them, he talked to his dentist friend and viola, he had his needed four days. That's dedication! Indeed, there are so many stories within the pages of this memoir that it's hard to choose a few to mention. There's the lesson of what happens when dry ice used to simulate fog doesn't cooperate, how to make a theatre completely dark for a scene when there are two bright exit signs that cannot be removed keeping the room lit, discussing wardrobe with Roddy McDowall, or dealing with an actor whose thick Irish accent made it impossible for others to understand him. If you love the theatre, there's no doubt you'll enjoy Sets, Lights, & Lunacy.
Quill says: Often funny, sometimes sad or heartwarming, Sets, Lights, & Lunacy is a not-to-be-missed read for those with a love for the theater.