January 24, 2005
Professor makes Broadway debut as lighting
designer for comedian Billy Crystals hit show
By Scott Rappaport
In February of 2003, David Cuthbert received a call from southern
Californias La Jolla Playhouse to do the lighting design
for a benefit performance by comedian/actor Billy Crystal.
Theater Arts Assistant Professor
David Cuthbert spent six weeks in New York preparing for
the show. Photo: Courtesy
The benefit was only scheduled for two evenings, so Cuthbert
promptly put together a quick design and moved on with his life.
Shortly thereafter, he was hired as an assistant professor of
theater arts at UCSC.
Last April, the phone rang again and Cuthbert was asked to
work on the same Crystal show at the same venue, but this time
for a two-week run as a workshop production. Eight months later,
Crystals one-man show, now significantly enhanced and
titled 700 Sundays, opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst
Theatre to tremendous acclaim--with Cuthbert on board as lighting
Crystal, who hosted the Academy Awards for the eighth time
in 2004, has starred in a wide variety of films including When
Harry Met Sally, Analyze This, City Slickers, Mr. Saturday Night,
Throw Momma From the Train, The Princess Bride, and Americas
Sweethearts. But 700 Sundays, a two-act autobiographical
play, was Crystals Broadway debut. The title refers to
the number of days he was able to spend with his hardworking
father, who died when the comedian was just 15.
The autobiographical 700 Sundays
is Billy Crystals Broadway debut.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Cuthbert recalled the first time he saw the show, an unlikely
mix of stand-up comedy and deeply personal stories about the
death of Crystals parents.
I saw it with the set designer and we sat there in stunned
silence, Cuthbert recalled. We were both really
moved. I remember saying that I understood why this guy is such
a big starhes earned it.
Once Cuthbert learned that the show was going to Broadway,
he had approximately one month to come up with the new lighting
My first impulse was not to do much with the lights;
I didnt want to distract from the show, said Cuthbert.
But Billy actually wanted me to do a lot of thingshes
an actor and director; he knows what he wants. So we worked
a lot on moods and shifts in emotion.
I was a little worried going in because all of the electricians
are union and have a rich tradition of being difficult,
Cuthbert added. But I ended up having a great group of
people and things went really smoothly.
Cuthbert spent six weeks in New York preparing for the show,
which opened on December 5, 2004. Three days later, the box
office was at an $8.5 million advance, according to Playbill.
The show is scheduled to run through March 6, and Cuthbert
said there is talk of it traveling to the Ahmanson Theatre in
Los Angeles. It will also be turned into a book that is slated
for publication in November by Warner Books.
This is definitely the biggest show Ive ever worked
on, Cuthbert noted. More people will see this show
than all my other shows combined. It will also make more money
than all of my other shows combined, he added.
Cuthberts background includes a solid track record of
work on the West Coast as a lighting designer for such venues
as La Jolla Playhouse, the Old Globe, Sledgehammer Theatre,
San Jose Rep, A Contemporary Theatre, the Intiman, the Magic
Theatre, and Shakespeare Santa Cruz. His national tours include
The History and Mystery of the Universe (about Buckminster
Fuller) and two productions with the New Pickle Circus. He has
also earned six awards for design excellence, including a San
Diego Critics Circle Award.
Now in his second year on the UCSC theater arts faculty, Cuthbert
noted that continuing his professional career outside the university
is essential for him as a professor, particularly to keep up-to-date
with technology and trends in the theater. I cant
imagine trying to teach without actually doing lighting design,
he observed. He added that working on a show like 700 Sundays
also helps to expand his range.
Its not the type of show that Im normally
hired to do, he explained. Im known for doing
new and experimental plays. So in that sense, it was a bit of
a challenge to create something realistic and subtle.
But by far it was the most supported Ive ever been
as an artist, Cuthbert said. Every whim I had, I
could make happen. They would go to the ends of the earth to
do whatever I needed to make sure the show worked.
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