R.I.P. Eugene Lee

I’ve seldom ventured to write appreciations of set designers on this blog, it falling outside my purview and expertise. Among the few have been Tony Walton, and Erté, But the death today of Eugene Lee (1939-2023) merits comment here for many reasons.

Though he had several more famous credits, I first knew Lee’s name as the resident set designer at Trinity Rep in Providence, which I attended and studied at from 1979 through 1988. I probably saw scores of his sets during that period. He was one of Providence’s proudest citizens. It’s quite mind-blowing that he died two days after the death of Trinity’s founder, Adrian Hall.

I can’t really expect you to care about that, though. His best known credit was that he was the production designer/set designer for Saturday Night Live from the very beginning in 1975 until the time of his death. 48 years! He would commute to and fro between NYC and Providence, all that time.

That by itself would make him notable, but we’re still not done, because he also designed shows for Broadway, including the original productions of Sweeney Todd (1979), Gilda Radner Live from New York (1979), Agnes of God (1982), Ragtime (1998), Colin Quinn: An Irish Wake (1998), Seussical (2000), Wicked (2003), and revivals of Candide (1975), The Skin of Our Teeth (1975), Show Boat (1994), A Moon for the Misbegotten (2000), A Streetcar Named Desire (2012) and Glengarry Glen Ross (2012), et al. He also worked on such films as Mr. North (1988) and Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)

Originally from Wisconsin, Lee had degrees from the Goodman School of Drama, Carnegie Mellon, and the Yale School of Drama. He is not to be confused with Eugene “Porky” Lee of the Little Rascals, though the readers of this blog are perhaps the only people on earth who would ever do such a thing.