Tuesday, April 21, 2009

She Lit Up My Life

Tharon Musser passed away last Sunday. She was born on January 8, 1925 in Roanoke, Virginia. Her dad was a clergyman.

Her name will, most likely, mean little to you unless you're a real afficianado of the Broadway stage. Tharon was a lighting designer, which is a little like saying that Picasso was a painter. Both are true but there's a lot more that could, and should, be said about the subjects.

Tharon lit the shows of my youth. Not incidentally, she also lit the shows of Stephen Sondheim. She lit "Follies." She also lit "A Chorus Line." And "Dreamgirls." She won Tonys for all of those. She also designed the lighting for "Applause", "A Little Night Music", "Pacific Overtures", "The Act", "Ballroom" and "42nd Street (original stage production - 1981)". I'm here to tell you, this woman could paint a stage in light. And she painted a lot of them.

She was an innovator. "A Chorus Line" was the first B'way show to use a computer to activate the cues. It was considered radical at the time. She used computerized lighting more and more as the years went by. Anyone who saw the original production of "Dreamgirls" will instantly recall the 4 giant, castered lighting towers that whirled and spun around the stage during the show -- uncredited chorus members who danced from beginning to end -- the entire show being (mostly) lit by them in computer-controlled, lightning-fast changes that dazzled the audiences of the time as much as Jennifer Holliday's rafter-rattling rendition of "And I am Telling You (I am not going)".

Tharon Musser did that. And today, 27 years later, the hairs on the back of my head still stand up as I recall that knock-dead evening of theater. Thank you, Tharon, for being a part of it.

Tharon is survived by her life partner, Marilyn Rennagel, who is also a lighting designer.

1 comment:

Bev Sykes said...

a lovely tribute; I've passed it along to Jeri, who can appreciate it even more than I can.