Tharon Musser, 84; called top lighting designer on Broadway
NEW YORK - Tharon Musser, a Tony-winning lighting designer of more than 100 Broadway shows, including such legendary musicals as "A Chorus Line," "Dreamgirls," "Mame," and "42nd Street," has died after a long illness. She was 84.
Lighting designer Ken Billington, who was once her apprentice, said Ms. Musser died Sunday at her home in Newtown, Conn.
Ms. Musser's Broadway career began in 1956 with the original production of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night."
Ms. Musser was nominated for 10 Tonys for lighting design, winning three - for "Follies," "A Chorus Line," and "Dreamgirls."
"Lighting design is learning how to see," she told the New York Times. "I learn to hear the lights in music in my mind."
In 1997, Contemporary Designers, a reference book, called her "the most prolific lighting designer in American theater history." Her work extended to dance and repertory theater throughout the Americas and in Europe.
Ms. Musser worked with a who's who of Broadway theater: directors George Abbott, Harold Prince, and Michael Bennett; playwrights Neil Simon, Edward Albee, and Tom Stoppard; and songwriters Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, and John Kander and Fred Ebb.
"Tharon Musser was an innovator in the field of lighting design," said Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, the industry trade group. "Her artistic contributions . . . enhanced the talents of renowned creative teams and made unforgettable Broadway magic."
Her work on "A Chorus Line" proved revolutionary, using for the first time a completely computerized lighting console instead of the manually operated "piano boards." Although her last Broadway show - "The Lonesome West" - was in 1999, Ms. Musser's lighting for "A Chorus Line" was used in the musical's 2006 New York revival.
Among the other musicals for which Ms. Musser designed the lighting: "Applause" (1970), the 1974 revival of "Candide," "The Wiz" (1975), and "They're Playing Our Song" (1978). Her hit plays included "Any Wednesday" (1964), "Same Time, Next Year" (1975), "Children of a Lesser God" (1980), "Brighton Beach Memoirs" (1983), and "The Real Thing" (1984).
Born in Roanoke, Va., Ms. Musser graduated from Berea College in Kentucky and then went to the Yale School of Drama. She began her design career off-Broadway in 1949.
She leaves her partner, Marilyn Rennagel, also a lighting designer.