In Broadway by Design, BroadwayWorld shines a light on this Broadway season’s stellar designs, show after show. Today we continue the series with Tony nominees Beowulf Boritt and Bradley King, who acted as set and lighting designers for Broadway’s LSD trip, Flying Over Sunset.
Set in the 1950s, Flying Over Sunset is a work of fiction inspired by the lives of three extraordinary and accomplished people – writer Aldous Huxley; playwright, diplomat and congressman, Clare Boothe Luce; and movie legend Cary Grant – each of whom in real life has experimented with the drug LSD. At a crossroads in their lives, the three meet and, under the influence of drugs, set off on a journey and confront the mysteries of their lives and their world.
Boritt’s design process began with the brain. “The set of Flying Over Sunset abstractly represents the human brain; what happens to the brain on LSD, but by extension it shows the power of our imagination,” he explained. “It twists and slides and flips in impossible ways, creating new worlds one after another . It represents the beauty of our mental agility in the pharmacy as it transforms into a beautiful, colorful and thrilling wonderland. Then it represents the terrifying vast emptiness of being lost in our own minds when Clare Booth Luce stands in empty space singing How, and when men are lost in the massive, endless, surging ocean.”
Lighting designer Bradley King began his process with the material. “I always start with the play. Not just the script/story, but the music, the orchestrations, the world that we think we’re trying to build – that’s where I find my inspiration,” he explained. . “I think I love lighting design so much because it’s like the visual composition of music; I can ‘mark’ a performance like a composer would with music, time, dynamics and instrumentation. So I usually go to the score first. In this case, Tom Kitt’s music was so rich and multi-layered that creating a lighting world for the piece went quite easily and naturally.
“But there are a million things that inspire me; conversations with James Lapine and Michelle Dorrance and the rest of the crew, watching Carmen Cusack in rehearsal, hearing the band rehearse for the first time…all those things contribute to what appears on stage.”
Both designers encountered similar challenges in the physical transmission of a mental state. “How on earth can you convey the mind-blowing, psychedelic journeys of these characters in a way that drives a story forward, takes the audience on an emotional journey, and still has a cohesive visual sense?” King said. “Our team found a silver lining in the shutdown: We were able to watch the archival recording of our last dress rehearsal in March 2020 and sit for three days and discuss, reflect and decide what worked and what didn’t before returning to the theater in November 2021. This time was extremely valuable to ensure that we were all on the same page to ensure that every design element pulled together and in concert.
“Representing an abstract idea in physical form is always tricky,” Boritt added. “I’m extremely happy that people have responded well to my attempt to visually represent the power of the human imagination!”
Flying Over Sunset concluded its run at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on January 16, 2022.