New York-based set designer Beowulf Boritt is a popular man in the theater world. He has designed more than 100 shows, won a Tony for James Lapine’s “Act One,” whose cast featured Twin Cities-trained star Santino Fontana, and is working now on the Guthrie Theater’s upcoming “The Lion in Winter.”
But Boritt is becoming famous to millions of TV viewers for the design tool he uses. Britt stars in an ad for Microsoft laptops.
How does it feel to be America’s most famous set designer?
“That’s only for this week,” Boritt said after ducking out from a technical rehearsal of “A Bronx Tale” on Broadway. “It’s been a little crazy, really. We filmed the ad in early June, two days before the Tonys, and, honestly, there was no guarantee that it was going to air at all.”
Boritt said that his first inkling that the ad was seeing some screen time came in the summer when he got a call from legendary director Harold Prince, who saw it in France.
“Hal Prince said he sees me on TV four times a day,” he said.
Now it’s playing wall to wall at home.
“It’s very cool,” he said, speaking of the power of TV. “Doormen in the street recognize me. And I get random emails and calls from people. Someone wanted to send me a script to get their musical produced on Broadway.”
Born in Concord, Mass. to a history professor father and an opera singer mother, Boritt is the eldest of three boys. His brothers have ordinary first names — Jake and Daniel. He had a peripatetic childhood, as his father took up teaching assignments in Memphis, Tenn., St. Louis, Mo., and Cambridge, England.
“I love visual storytelling and have a knack for creating different worlds onstage,” he said, adding that he’s at a place where he gets most of the resources he needs to realize his vision. He put a river onstage for “Therese Raquin,” which starred Keira Knightley as the title character who drowns her husband. He’s putting a forest of 25 giant trees onstage for “Come From Away,” a September 11-related musical coming to Broadway in February. And he’s putting a train onstage in “Murder on the Orient Express,” which opens next March at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre.
“The Lion in Winter” is his second show at the Guthrie. He designed the set for “The Scottsboro Boys,” which transferred to Broadway and won him a Tony nomination.
For this production, which focuses on the political and personal machinations as English King Henry II nears his death in 1189, Boritt is creating a rotating castle.
“Even though it’s set against a backdrop of [ancient] England and France, it’s really a 1960s-style family drama like ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’” he said. “It’s about all these people trapped in a space where they have to deal with each other.”
The play, written by James Goldman first staged on Broadway in 1966, is best remembered now as a 1970 film starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn. The Twin Cities production will be headlined by Kevyn Morrow and Laila Robins. The show runs on the Guthrie’s proscenium stage from Nov. 19 to Dec. 31.