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Beowulf Boritt captures grit and glam of New York City with his Tony-nominated set for "New York, New York"

"New York, New York" set captures grit and glam of NYC
"New York, New York" set captures grit and glam of NYC 02:44

NEW YORK - Sets can transport audience members to all different places - even back in time, without ever having to leave their theater seat. 

The musical "New York, New York" follows struggling artists trying to make it in post-war 1946. 

The Tony-nominated set designer spoke about how he brought the greatest city in the world to life. 

Before "New York, New York" came to life on the big stage, it was created on a much smaller scale by set designer Beowulf Boritt. 

"Trying to show both the kind of the grittiness and the dirtiness of New York, and also the beauty of it and how those two things live, you know, constantly at the same time," he said. 

To accomplish the grit? Rusty fire escapes. 

"There are six of these. Four of them move. They're all solid iron," Boritt said. 

For the beauty? A scenic painter created hand-painted backdrops. 

"She has this sort of brilliant technique of painting onto a translucent canvas. So when we light it from behind the skies glow and the windows glow," Boritt said. "Suddenly, there's the Chrysler Building glittering in the distance, or the Empire State Building, or you walk into Grand Central and see that ceiling."  

To depict an accurate 1946 New York City, he relied on photographs taken back then by the city's tax department, and one other very famous photograph of workers on steel beams served as an inspiration for a musical number.

"The top of these beams is covered in a quarter inch of steel plate, so that the steel on their tap shoes hits the steel on the plate and makes a very, very unique sound," Boritt said. "Every night, it's a tricky thing to assemble, because it's almost like a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle has to come flying out of the wings, and out of the flies, and assemble on stage with a bunch of people on it and then disassemble again just as fast."  

Borritt estimates there are about 70 city locations represented. 

"Sometimes we'll pop through three locations in about 15 seconds," he said. 

At one point, the actors are in a snowy Central Park. 

"Suddenly, the doormen all hold their shovels up in the air, they spin them around. And on the backside of the shovel is the railing of Bow Bridge, and it creates the railing," he said. 

It all starts with sketches, technical drawings, paintings, then models - a combination of handmade and 3D printing. 

"This is Jimmy's apartment where he pulls instruments off the wall, and there's a whole single number where he's kind of a one man band and plays every instrument in the room, because he's a music nut," Boritt explained. 

Already a prior Tony Award winner, this mark's Boritt's sixth nomination. 

"When the people who you work with in the community says 'Hey, this - you did a great job on this,' it's incredibly meaningful," he said. 

Post-pandemic, he said the show has taken on an even deeper meaning. 

"New York's a tough place to live, but we all love it or we wouldn't be here, and so I think this sort of love song to the city is that much more poignant right now," he said. 

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