News Column

Backstage work garners Tony noms for 4 with Pittsburgh ties

June 9, 2013


June 09--When the 2013 Tony Awards show gets under way, lighting designer Jules Fisher will be in the audience feeling both thrilled and nervous.

This year Fisher, who has already received eight Tony Awards and 21 previous nominations, is jointly nominated for best lighting design of a play with colleague Peggy Eisenhauer for their work on "Lucky Guy," which marked Tom Hanks' Broadway debut.

While performers appearing on the stage often get the most attention, those working behind the scenes also are recognized at the Tonys. This year, the nominees for backstage work include four Carnegie Mellon University grads.

Fisher, a 1960 CMU graduate, received his first nomination in 1972 for his lighting designs for "Jesus Christ Superstar," and received his first Tony in 1973 for "Pippin."

But 40 years later, the show and the award haven't lost their excitement.

"It's still special. I'm thrilled," Fisher says. "I'm thrilled every time and nervous every time. I prepare myself by saying 'You'll never win.' But it's nerve-wracking. Luckily, the lighting award is given early ... then you can relax and laugh more."

The anxiety never diminishes, says Eisenhauer, a 1983 CMU graduate.

"No matter how you plan for it or try to feel nothing, there's nothing quite like that moment of the envelope," says Eisenhauer, who has received eight nominations and two Tony awards. "One has to be ready to feel whatever the envelope provides."

There is, of course, a positive side to winning or being nominated, Eisenhauer says: "It's absolutely meaningful, extraordinarily humbling. It makes me feel grateful that in a small pocket of the industry, our work is seen as good."

Some awards can be more meaningful than others, Fisher says.

He's particularly delighted with this year's nomination because "Lucky Guy," which profiles New York Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, didn't have a flashy set or attention-getting lighting.

"It's set in a tabloid newsroom, a low, run-down fluorescent-lit place that we had to make look different (through time) in the '80s and '90s," Fisher says. "We had to use light to move people around -- but imperceptibly."

Eisenhauer still fondly remembers her first Tony award in 1996 for "Bring in'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk" that she shared with Fisher. It was her first nomination, too. "That was extraordinary."

Even though they didn't get the award, Eisenhauer holds a special fondness for the 2001 nomination she and Fisher shared for "Jane Eyre."

"It is a musical I love a lot. It was groundbreaking, and it had closed," she says, pointing out that shows that close after short runs and are not widely seen seldom get enough votes to make the nomination list. "I loved the show because I gave so much to it and because it was ambitious. I was really proud of that nomination."

Other Pittsburgh-related nominees for their behind-the-scenes work include:

--Peter Hylenski, a 1997 CMU graduate, for best sound design of a musical for "Motown The Musical," which chronicles the life of famed music producer Berry Gordy. This is his third Tony nomination. He was previously nominated for "The Scottsboro Boys" in 2011 and "Rock of Ages" in 2009.

--Ann Roth, a 1953 CMU graduate, received a nomination for best costume design of a play for "The Nance," which stars Nathan Lane and is set in the burlesque world of the 1930s. She has six previous Tony nominations -- five for best costumes and one for best producer of a play.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or


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