Eugene Lee, a high respected designer known for his inventive use of space, has passed away. His death was confirmed by the long-running television sketch show Saturday Night Live, with whom he has worked closely since the program began in 1975. Mr. Lee was 83.
Born in Beloit, Wisconsin, Mr. Lee attended the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago (now at DePaul University), the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Carnegie Mellon, and the School of Drama at Yale University before moving to the East Coast, where he quickly became a designer of esteem.
A beloved eccentric, Mr. Lee had a collector's eye, with his home filled with vintage typewriters, canes, globes, and antique items of every shape and size. The aesthetics of organized chaos lent themselves to several of his most iconic designs, with details hidden on every inch of the stage to create worlds that felt lived in and fleshed out.
Mr. Lee's mastery of attracting an audience member's eye in spectacular designs made him a secret weapon for numerous large scale Broadway productions, with Mr. Lee particularly grasping the artistic elements of the largest theatre on Broadway, the Gershwin Theatre. Mr. Lee designed some of the longest-running productions in the theatre's history, including the original Broadway productions of Sweeney Todd and Wicked, and a hit revival of Show Boat.
In addition to the Gershwin, Mr. Lee made inventive use of the Broadway Theatre, completely transforming the interior of the space for the immersive musicals Dude and Candide. He was four-times Tony nominated, winning thrice for his work on Candide, Sweeney Todd, and Wicked, with his designs for the musical Ragtime netting his fourth nomination.
Starting in 1975, Mr. Lee began work on what became the longest-running comedy sketch show on television, Saturday Night Live. Mr. Lee was the production designer for the show from its inception until his death.
Elsewhere on Broadway, Mr. Lee worked on the original Broadway productions of Merrily We Roll Along, Seussical, The Pirate Queen, and Amazing Grace, as well as revivals of A Moon for the Misbegotten, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Glengarry Glen Ross. His final Broadway production was 2016's Bright Star.
Mr. Lee received an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, and moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he and his wife Brooke raised two sons. Since 1967, Mr. Lee had been the resident designer for the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, working closely with the recently deceased founder Adrian Hall. He was inducted in the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2006, which is housed in the Gershwin Theatre.
Mr. Lee is survived by his wife, Brooke, his sons Will and Ted, and his grandchildren. His work for Wicked continues to live beyond him, both at the Gershwin Theatre, and on tour.