In Memoriam: Marc B. Weiss, Lighting Designer

by Michael Eddy
Rosemary and Marc Weiss
Rosemary and Marc Weiss

Marc B. Weiss, a veteran Broadway lighting designer known for his sensitive and mood-setting approach, died on April 2 in New York City. He was 77. 

Over the course of his four-decade career, Mr. Weiss lent his creative skills—not only lighting but scenic design and directing—to hundreds of productions worldwide, from plays, musicals, and operas to TV soap operas and industrial shows. He consulted on many new theater and architectural projects, and stage lighting technology. But Mr. Weiss is best known for his lighting designs for dozens of Broadway shows. He received a Tony Award nomination for Best Lighting Design for his work on A Moon for the Misbegotten starring Kate Nelligan.

“His contribution to [director] David Leveaux’s strikingly abstracted production is crucial,” wrote Frank Rich in The New York Times of Mr. Weiss’s Tony nomination. “Mr. Weiss’s lighting helps capture the timeless, almost mystical spirit of a work whose principal image derives from the Pietà.”

In her review of the same production, Alisa Solomon wrote: “Marc B. Weiss creates a final act dawn truly worthy of Belasco, beautifully passing through pinks, reds, oranges, and yellows.  Instead of a curtain or blackout at the end of act three when Jim falls asleep against Josie’s breast as O’Neill suggests, we see the dawn leave its grayness behind and can sigh with Josie for the peace Jim and found, and for ourselves.”

Years later Mr. Weiss’s lighting design contributed to a Best Revival Tony Award for Anna Christie, starring Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson, and reuniting Mr. Weiss with Mr. Leveaux to light the work of Mr. O’Neill.

“The dreamlike production design,” wrote Frank Rich in his review of Anna Christie for The Times, “is dominated by the lighting of Marc B. Weiss… The fog that O’Neill’s people keep talking about, the fog that Anna says will cleanse her, becomes a poetic presence, as does the blackness of the old devil sea on which Chris blames all his woes.”

Mr. Weiss received Drama Desk nominations for Best Lighting for Deathtrap, The First, and The Rink, starring Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera, who won a Tony Award for her role. Raggedy Anne was nominated for the American Theater Wing Design award and was the first Broadway show sent to Moscow under Perestroika.

In addition to his work on Anna Christie, Mr. Weiss lit to two other notable Best Revival Tony Award winners: Cabaret, starring Joel Grey, and Othello, starring James Earl Jones & Christopher Plummer.

“Mr. Weiss fills a huge cyclorama with burning sunsets and inky nights,” wrote Mr. Rich of Othello, “that join Mr. Plummer in beckoning us directly into hell.”

Born in Washington, DC, in 1941 to Abraham Weiss, an economist who retired as Assistant Secretary of Labor, and Marjory F. Weiss, a bio-mathematician at the National Institutes of Health, Mr. Weiss surprised his family and teachers when he chose a life in theater instead of medicine. He got his start as a design apprentice at Washington’s Arena Stage while doing graduate work in theater production at Catholic University.

His first job on Broadway was as a stage manager for the original Broadway production of Hair, with which he then toured around the country. He began lighting on Broadway as an assistant to designer Jules Fisher on several productions, and he earned his first Broadway lighting design credit for 6 Rms Riv Vu starring Jane Alexander and Jerry Orbach.

Though he had shifted from the sciences to the arts, Mr. Weiss’s technical bent served him well in an era when computerized theatrical lighting became the standard on Broadway. He became proficient in computer programming later in his career and designed the database structure for the Internet Broadway Data Base—ibdb.com

In the decade before his death, Mr. Weiss had revisited his love of oil painting and became a member of the renowned Salmagundi Art Club in New York. After a years-long illness with Parkinsonism and aphasia, he died suddenly of complications from pneumonia, with his wife and daughter at his side.

A memorial service will be held at the Riverside Memorial Chapel on Sunday, April 28th at 1:30pm. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Marc’s memory to Broadway Cares.

Here's a remembrance from Ronald Fogel, who worked with Mr. Weiss over the years: "Marc related to me once that he loved the city so much that whenever he traveled, he would repeat to himself this mantra: 'When you're outta town...YOU'RE OUTTA TOWN!!!' He had an incredible sense of humor and many knew how incredibly talented he was. His paintings are beautiful and moving. Working with him on any project or show was a gift to me; we always had a great time together. He was a very good friend and mentor to me and I will miss him deeply."

Editors Note: I had the good fortune to meet with Marc Weiss on a few occasions when I worked at Kliegl Bros. Stage Lighting and Rosco Labs in sales and marketing roles. He was always glad to see me and chat about theater, stage lighting, and life. He was always full of warmth and humor and his lighting was stunning. I will always enjoy those times I got to spend with Marc. I send my sincere condolences to his wife, Rosemary and his daughter, Ali as well as his friends and colleagues. - Michael S. Eddy 

Here are some reviews of Mr. Weiss's work as a designer and director:

Othello – Broadway
NY Times, Feb 4, 1982
Frank Rich

David Chapman and Marc B. Weiss, who also did inventive work on The First this season, have contributed evocative scenery and lighting. Mr. Chapman’s oval-shaped, balconied set, with its ever-changing configurations of poles and canvas drapes, makes full use of the Winter Garden’s vast stage, as well as of its orchestra pit. Mr. Weiss fills a huge cyclorama with burning sunsets and inky nights that join Mr. Plummer in beckoning us directly into hell.

Mousetrap-Stage West
Daily News (local) Jan. 15, 1979
Laila Kain

Under Weiss’s direction each character is so cleverly played that any one might be the murderer, or the next victim... His direction is flawless: high styled and clear edged.

Journal Enquirer
Patrick Farrell

Marc Weiss’s direction consistently used the set to ease the storytelling; the flow of his scenes is slick, the movement frugal and telling... The casting is inspired... The result is a mystery that’s clean, fast-paced and funny when it wants to be and gripping when it has to be.  Even small details like the sound effects, music and radio-show simulations are pulled off deftly... Stage West has taken a story we all know too well and put it over on us one more time.

The Sentinel
Angela Carbone

The director, Marc B. Weiss, has a talented cast to work with and he utilizes their talent well.

The Morning Union, Jan. 15, 1979
R. C. Hammerich

The inventiveness of the director, Marc B. Weiss, and the members of the cast are crucial to the success of the production. Time after time Saturday night the cast drew guffaws from the audience. 

A Moon for the Misbegotten – Broadway
NY Times, May 2, 1984
Frank Rich

Mr. Leveaux is a 26-year-old British director who should be quarantined in New York until we’ve seen him direct more American plays. Coming at O’Neill with new eyes, he has seen “Moon” for the timeless drama that it is. This production is freed almost entirely from naturalism; it makes palpable Jim’s statement that “there is no present or future—only the past happening over and over again—now.”

The weather-beaten farmhouse, designed by Brien Vahey, is set on a tilted oval against a nearly blank cyclorama; we’re not just in 1923 rural Connecticut but in the dreamy, abstracted realm of consciousness where O’Neill seemed to be locating the dead brother that the play wills back to life. Marc B. Weiss’s lighting completes the mood. The couple’s long journey from night to daybreak is suffused with a magical, luminous aura that heightens the sensation that the universe is standing still so that two lost souls can find their way home.

Review by Alisa Solomon (Village Voice)

Marc B. Weiss creates a final act dawn truly worthy of Belasco, beautifully passing through pinks, reds, oranges, and yellows. Instead of a curtain or blackout at the end of act three when Jim falls asleep against Josie’s breast as O’Neill suggests, we see the dawn leave its grayness behind and can sigh with Josie for the peace Jim and found, and for ourselves.

La Traviata—Cleveland Opera
The Plain Dealer—October 23, 1999
Donald Rosenberg

Marc B. Weiss’ lighting is as poetic as the music.

Raggedy Ann—Broadway
New York Law Journal—October 24, 1986
Jeanne Lieberman

…reinforced by some razzle-dazzle special effects, enhanced by Marc Weiss’ dramatic lighting and Carrie Robbins costumes.

Lighting Dimensions—December 1986
Lee Watson

Mr. Weiss is noted for the precise timing of his light cues. They are right on the mark in Ann. As would be expected in a children’s fantasy, he uses rich, saturated colors freely: dark blues, reds and greens—with taste... Mr. Weiss uses both smoke and stunning explosive pyrotechnics to great effect. Strobe flashes intrude when the Forces of Evil seem to have the upper hand over our little girl heroine, Marcella, and her imagined doll friends. Mr. Weiss has well matched the musical with a sky full of twinkling stars, moments of overwhelming shock when things go badly for Marcella, clever use of gobo patterns (both still and moving), dry ice fog everywhere plus rolling smoke, a huge moon box which moves constantly and changes color and wonderfully bold strokes in lighting throughout.

Anna Christie—Broadway
NY Times, Jan. 15, 1993
Frank Rich

Miss Richardson... is riveting from her first entrance through a saloon doorway’s ethereal shaft of golden light... Every detail in this Anna Christie has been supplely orchestrated...  The dreamlike production design... is dominated by the lighting of Marc B. Weiss, who made a similarly memorable contribution to the production of O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten that Mr. Leveaux directed... some Broadway seasons ago. The fog that O’Neill’s people keep talking about, the fog that Anna says will cleanse her, becomes a poetic presence, as does the blackness of the old devil sea on which Chris blames all his woes.

Newsday, January 15, 1993
Linda Winer

Productions values, especially Mar B. Weiss’s lights and John Lee Beatty’s sets, are as understated and tasteful as the rest of the evening. The tavern is a dark place, safe from the light of day and the fog is more poetic than we have any right to expect by now.

CBS-TV
Dennis Cunningham

Special applause to lighting by Marc B. Weiss and sets by John Lee Beatty. This is exciting and exceptional theater.

UPI, Jan. 15, 1993
Frederick M. Winship

Marc B. Weiss’s lighting is the key to the atmosphere of the production, which ends with its three main characters, backs to the audience, looking out on the luminous sea mists that shroud the mystery of their future.

The New York Observer, Jan. 25, 1993
John Heilpern

…brilliant lighting by Marc B. Weiss (who lit Mr. Leveaux’s previously admired Broadway production of O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten)

AP, January 14, 1993

At the end of the evening, Leveaux and his production team leave the audience with a stunning final picture as the barge cabin breaks apart, and the actors are on deck, surrounded by swirling fog and “dat ole davil sea.”

NY Times, Jan. 24, 1993
David Richards

The director David Leveaux seems to agree. He freezes the action at the end of the Roundabout production, opens up the cabin of the barge to the fullness of the night, and allows a massive band of fog to move in and swirl about the three principal characters, isolating them from one another at the very moment they’ve presumably come together. It’s a haunting moment—made even more so by John Lee Beatty’s spare set and Marc B. Weiss’s poetic lighting.

The Rink—Broadway
NY Times, February 10, 1984
Frank Rich

…hurdy-gurdy evocation of memory, well sung by Miss Minnelli and dreamily enlivened by Marc B. Weiss’s atmospheric lighting effects.

Wall Street Journal
Edwin Wilson

Peter Larkin’s ghostlike roller rink becomes a magic palace under the ingenious lighting of Marc B. Weiss.

New York Magazine, Feb. 20, 1984
John Simon

Then there is extremely effective, evocative, and versatile scenery by Pater Larkin, with genuinely painterly qualities… This is helped enormously by Marc B. Weiss’s imaginative lighting, which makes the tawdry look poetic and neatly undercuts the lush with a tinge of irony.

Live Like Pigs—Garrick Players
Washington Post, December 2, 1967
William Rice

…a production of John Arden’s Live Like Pigs that is brilliant. …the actors have so skillfully and unreservedly entered into this alien environment that they do a good share of the playwright’s work for him. There is no hesitation as they wrap themselves in filthy blankets or sit on the floor amidst spewed garbage.  They make the dirt real. You can almost smell the decay and festering… A vivid bit a theater that probably won’t be equal. …Obviously the, the director Marc B. Weiss has used the vitality of his actors to good effect. He has also staged the whole affair with a briskness and assurance… The Garrick Players’ Live Like Pigs can stand comfortably with Arena Stage’s Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance.

The Evening Star

The Garrick Players, under Marc B. Weiss’ direction continue to demonstrate impressive virtues as a company… the performances are outstanding. Live Like Pigs generates considerable power.

Catholic Standard

. . . an extremely strong production . . . the play’s obtuseness takes second place when measured by its theatricality.  Director Marc Weiss keeps his scurvy crew squalling and bawling in a manner which is as authentic as it is unsettling.

DC Examiner

The Garrick Players do well by Arden’s story and invest his characters with a raw and robust defiance. “Live Like Pigs” has its jolts in all the right places.

The Hoya

Marc Weiss deserves commendation… well worth seeing.

The Hatchet

…uniformly excellent.

Washington Daily News

…a beautiful piece of theatre.

A Life - (Pre-Broadway Tryout)
Edmonton Journal, September 25, 1980
Keith Ashwell

The lighting by Marc Weiss takes the audience effortlessly through Leonard’s sure and revealing time warps... The production itself will be remembered for a long time. It is virtually flawless. It is touching and beautiful.

A Life - Broadway
New Yorker, Nov. 10, 1980
Brendan Gill

…the critically important lighting is by Marc B. Weiss.

The Letter—Studio Arena Theater, Buffalo
Buffalo News, April 5, 1980
John Dwyer

…deft lighting by Marc B. Weiss

Buffalo Courier Express, April 5, 1980
Bob Groves

Marc Weiss’s violet dusk… enhances the old fashioned theatrical warmth of this presentation.

Julius Caesar & Antony and Cleopatra—American Shakespeare Festival
The Village Voice, June 29, 1972
Julius Novick

Robin Wagner’s set is not far short of magnificent… And the lighting by Marc B. Weiss is bold, emphatic, and highly effective.

The First—Broadway
The Jersey Journal, Nov. 18, 1981
William Raidy

Extraordinary lighting by Marc B. Weiss

Rebel Armies Deep into Chad—Long Wharf Theater
The Boston Globe, April 25, 1989
Kevin Kelly

In terms of John Lee Beatty’s set design (the rafted interior of Dove’s cottage, a side porch and walkway), Candice Donnelly’s costumes and Marc Weiss’ lighting, the play is perfect.

Romeo and Juliet – Stratford
New York Magazine
John Simon

Marc B. Weiss’s lighting is exquisitely evocative.

Scaramouche—Virginia Museum Theater
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Feb. 29, 1992
Robert Merritt

Marc Weiss has created an amazing look with a constant flow of drape-filled pictorial spaces that stay just on the safe side of caricature (with one boating scene that goes delightfully beyond), his lighting is remarkably diverse…

Shakespeare’s Cabaret—Broadway
NY Daily News
Douglas Watt

The lighting by Marc B. Weiss could not be bettered.

Sally and Marsha—Manhattan Theater Club
NY Daily News, Feb 22, 1982
Douglas Watt

Marc B. Weiss’s lighting… lends variety even to morning light.

Short Eyes—Second Stage
New York Magazine, Dec. 10, 1984

David Jenkins’s good set is trenchantly lit by Marc. B. Weiss.

New York Times, Nov. 28, 1984
Frank Rich

The atmospherics are well served… by the menacing shadows of Marc B. Weiss’s lighting design.

6 Rms Riv Vu
Variety, Sept 20, 1972

A special note is due to Marc B. Weiss lighting, which is simple but good-looking, and properly dramatic when the opportunity arises, such as the dimly lit embrace that closes the second act.

The Sound of Music—Jones Beach
NY Daily News, June 30, 1980
Loren Craft

Credit Marc Weiss with the lighting coup of the century, if only inadvertently. As The Sound of Music opened the Jones Beach Theater’s 28th season Thursday night, a full moon rose slightly stage right and hung over the giant amphitheater like a celestial chandelier.

Of course, you won’t get that every night, the phases of the moon being what they are and Weiss’ connections being limited, but what you will get is a glistening performance of The Sound of Music.

A View from the Bridge—Stage West
Transcript-Telegram, Holyoke, Mass, March 24, 1979
Susan J. Laramee

Marc. B. Weiss’s set was reminiscent of an intermingling of Carbone family poverty and pride.

One Acts—Lincoln Center, Mitzi Newhouse Theater
Village Voice, March 17, 1981
Michael Feingold

Marc B. Weiss’s excellent lighting, all tight focus and harsh whiteness, makes a particularly strong contribution here.

West Side Story—Jones Beach
Staten Island Register, Aug. 19, 1982
Mike Portantiere

Marc B. Weiss’ scenery and lighting solve every single one of the many problems inherent in the Jones Beach Theatre. Most notably, Weiss’ lighting provides additional magic for that unforgettable moment when Tony and Maria see each other for the first time. The effect here is breathtaking.