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HomeEntertainmentRobin Wagner, Tony-winning set designer for 'The Producers,' dies at age 89

Robin Wagner, Tony-winning set designer for ‘The Producers,’ dies at age 89


Robin Wagner, a set designer who worked on more than 50 Broadway plays and musicals in a career spanning 50 years and won three Tony Awards for best scenic design, has passed away. He turned 89.

Wagner died in his sleep in New York City on Monday, publicist Matt Polk said The Hollywood Reporter after confirmation from Wagner’s daughter Christie Wagner Lee.

His Broadway play and music design credits between 1961 and 2012 include the original productions of Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Angels in America, Victoria/Victoria, The Producers, The Boy From Oz, A Chorus Line, 42nd Street And Dream women. Wagner also designed Crazy about you And To play chess for London’s West End.

Rather than a set designer with a painterly style, Wagner pioneered mobile, automated sets on Broadway with productions such as About the twentieth century And Dream women. Due to his innovations, the extensive use of technology to smoothly move and shift scenes on stages became the standard in live theater.

Wagner won three Tony Awards during his career for best set design – for About the twentieth century in 1978, City of Angels in 1990 and The producers in 2001 – and received a total of 10 Tony nominations during his career for productions such as Jelly’s Last Jam, Mack & Mabel, Young Frankestein and the first generation production of Kiss me, Kate.

Born August 31, 1933, in San Francisco, Wagner graduated from Balboa High School and accidentally fell into set design after spending two years in art school at the Palace of Fine Arts, which eventually became the California School of Fine Arts.

“I fell into it because I loved theatre. When I started — I was 20 years old — I hadn’t studied anything about theater. Then suddenly I started going and fell in love with it. I wanted to figure out a way I could be around it. So I started running a light board in a place called the Theater Arts Colony in San Francisco, where I was born,” said Wagner Poster in 2007.

He got his break on Broadway Big fish, little fish, which opened at the ANTA Theater in New York City on March 15, 1961. After working on 17 off-Broadway plays, his breakthrough as a set designer on the Great White Way came with the original production of Her.

Wagner then oversaw the design of landmark 1970s Broadway productions Lenny, Jesus Christ Superstar And A chorus line, the latter featured a set famous for just a white line on the floor and a mirrored back wall.

“Because it’s that simple. That was the result of two years of work, of Michael Bennett and I trying to distill things. We started with big ideas for visualizing scenes, and over the workshop period of the show they got smaller and smaller. Finally we realized that we could do the whole show with nothing but a line. That was the real beginning. And then we knew we needed a black box, which represents theater, and we needed the mirrors, because they represent the dance studio,” Wagner explained to Poster.

He also earned a long list of other accolades including Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Maharam Awards. And Wagner designed for numerous regional theater productions, along with ballet, opera and rock performances, including for a Rolling Stones tour in 1975.

Wagner served as a trustee of the Joseph Papp Public Theater and was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2001.

He is survived by his partner, Susan Kowal, and children Kurt Wagner, Leslie Wagner and Christie Wagner Lee. He was previously married to Joyce Wagner and producer Paula Wagner.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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