A classic faint-praise damning of a play or musical is: "I loved the sets." In the case of Macbeth, however, I have heard "I loved the lighting" from many people, but they all very much enjoyed the production in general. The designer behind that lighting -- with its dramatic shafts of white against the rich blacks of Scott Pask's set and Catherine Zuber's costumes -- is Japhy Weideman, who was Tony-nominated earlier this year for his work on another Jack O'Brien production: The Nance.
"I never truly know what I'm going to do with the lighting," Weideman told me the other day, "until I get in there and try. I have ideas when I go in to the initial production meetings." He went on: "In other words, I have a plan. But if I stick to it when we get to tech rehearsals then I can easily feel boxed in."
I mention to Weideman that the lighting designer is the most exposed member of the creative team during those tech run-throughs: the costumes and sets are pretty much fixed in place, but the lighting mutates by the minute. "Yes, tech is a blessing because I get to try new things. But it's also the hardest part of the job. I'm creating in front of everybody. It can seem vulnerable. I'm basically trying to see what feels right. It's all about the feeling."
For Macbeth, Weideman, who grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, said his influences weren't so much movies or play productions as opera. "The kind of big, muscular, single-source white light in Macbeth is something you see a lot of in European opera houses."
Weideman, who went to the University of New Mexico and worked at the nearby Santa Fe Opera during summers with such luminaries (sorry) in the field as Jennifer Tipton and Duane Schuler, is familiar with those overseas venues. He's done a Bluebeard's Castle at La Scala and a Don Giovanni at Opera de Lyon. (For LCT3 he's done six shows, including 4000 Miles.)
Like many lighting designers, he also draws ideas from pop or rock shows. He mentioned the wow-inducing lighting of Madonna's last tour, but went in to greater detail about a concert he saw last year in Brooklyn (where he resides) starring the American indie-folk band Bon Iver.
"The concert was in Prospect Park," Weideman said. "The lighting wasn't a big rig. They had seven LED rods behind the band, at different heights, and a little bit of side light. It was intricate and beautifully done. It was a lesson in how you don't need 500 lights if you cue things properly."
Weideman's latest New York assignment, opening this week, is What's It All About?, an off-Broadway show devoted to the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It, too, reflects the degree to which Weideman responds to projects involving music. "With Macbeth," he explained, "I really drew a lot not only from Jack's direction but from the original music and sound that Mark Bennett came up with. Mark's work really impacted me. It helped me understand how big something could go in the Beaumont. It's an epic space, and I wanted to be worthy of it."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com