Beowulf Boritt is one of the busiest set designers on Broadway. Since making his debut with 2005’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Boritt has designed the set of over 30 Broadway productions, earning two Tony Awards (from six nominations), and two Drama Desk Awards (from eight nominations) in the best scenic design category. His latest Broadway set was for Harmony, and next up is the upcoming revival of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.
His 2023 Tony Award and Drama Desk Award wins were both for his design of the new musical New York, New York. These must have been particularly rewarding accolades, considering that show is the one Boritt named when we asked him about his toughest project to date. Here is Beowulf Boritt on his most challenging work to date:
This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Broadway’s Best Shows: What has been your most challenging work to date?
Beowulf Boritt: New York, New York (by John Kander, Fred Ebb, David Thompson, Sharon Washington, and Lin-Manuel Miranda at the St. James Theatre, Directed and Choreographed by Susan Stroman, 2023) was by far the largest, most complicated set I’ve designed.
BBS: What was so difficult about this project?
BB: The show required many, many locations in quick succession and it all had to squeeze into a Broadway theatre without a very big backstage. The rapid pace of the scene changes was hard because there were several 15-20 minute sequences in the show that were basically constant scene changes keeping the crew working at a fevered pace. For the first 10 days of tech, I think the crew and stage management just thought it was impossible, but they kept at it valiantly, and eventually, we got it all working efficiently, safely, and beautifully.
BBS: How did you address and/or resolve the challenges?
BB: We planned very carefully, making sure everything was exactly the size we had laid out in our technical drawings so it could all fit together like a giant three-dimensional Tetris game. We had to balance all these technical needs with the look of the design so it would all feel beautiful and effortless.
BBS: Are you proud of the result?
BB: I won a Tony Award for it, so that’s a nice cherry on top!
BBS: Is there anything you would do differently with the benefit of hindsight?
BB: The show was enormous. Perhaps too enormous to survive in the current Broadway climate. It was what the artistic and producing team wanted, I think, but I suppose in retrospect had we done a much simpler production it might have had a longer life.