Fortunately for my wife Gen and I, Tharon’s presence and feistiness were so powerful, and we had such memorable times working with her and the magical Marilyn – that even during these last difficult years, her spirit and immediacy have never dimmed for us.
I was lucky enough to work with her –for Broadway and regional productions – from the mid 60s to the mid 90s, and nobody in my experience changed less or was less affected by personal success than Tharon. She was the same enchantingly feisty spirit whether working on a flat-out calamity like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or a golden-tinged triumph like The Real Thing.
Collaborating with her always brought out the best in all around her, even in outrageously difficult situations like the Philadelphia dress rehearsal of Lerner and Bernstein’s bicentennial offering 1600. Alan Lerner had still not completed the final scene, which apparently wasn’t worrying Leonard Bernstein too much as, when we inevitably ground to a halt, he felt that his anthem “Take Care Of This House” could cap the show with a truly moving finale if all the black cast members mounted the steps of the White House, donning aprons while chanting “Welcome home, Mr. President!” And then launching into “Take Care...”
“You can’t do that, Lenny!” protested Tharon, “You can’t spend an entire evening dealing with how badly the blacks have been treated throughout the tenure of the White House...and then come up with something this demeaning!”
Such was her conviction and vehemence that Lenny, looking quite sheepish, capitulated without a struggle.
And thank heaven she felt no obligation to “keep to her own territory.” What an inspiration she was to us all. But, above all, what fun it always was to be in her company (as you can judge from the picture on p 89 of Del Unruh’s 2007 USITT book about her and her work). Unforgettably so, even to the extent that I can still choose to believe, she is still with us in all the important ways.
—Tony Walton, set designer
I first saw A Chorus Line at the Shubert in Chicago when I was in high school. It was the first national company and probably 1976 or 1977. I happened to sit in the last row of the orchestra house, right next to the seat that [the character] Zach sat in as he directed the show. To this day, that performance changed my life. I knew every word of the show when I walked in the theatre. I have since seen the show three or four times.
Tharon’s work is nothing short of brilliant. I also have had the great honor to work with two of Tharon’s great assistants and in their company meet Tharon, usually over a scotch at Sam’s. Richard Winkler and Ken Billington both carry the torch that Tharon passed to them with great pride. They speak of her with reverence. She changed so many people's lives that it’s impossible to count. I add my thanks to the long list of those that owe their careers and, in many ways, their lifestyles to Tharon. I am now collaborating on a new production of Dreamgirls with Ken and Robin Wagner. I hope the Tharon stories never end.
—Howard Werner, lighting designer, Lightswitch
I never had the pleasure of meeting Tharon in person, but I corresponded with her for a while. As an undergraduate student in lighting design in the late 70s/early 80s, I first wrote to her after seeing the 1st National Tour of A Chorus Line and being blown away by her work. So clean, so crisp. I asked a lot of questions regarding her design, how to survive in this business, and how hard it would be as a woman designer. She filled me in on our history (something that was missing in my design classes) and answered every single question in every letter. She said that if I was as determined as I sounded, I’d go far, and she’d see me in NY. She said to look her up when I arrived, and she would buy me a drink.
I never got that drink. By the time I moved east, the disease was already taking control. Tharon’s art will forever influence how I look at color, focus, and the simplicity and subtlety of the cue. She was a true visionary. And I will forever in debt to her for taking the time to answer my questions. I will continue to teach the next generation about Tharon, Loie, Arden, and Jean.
—Sandi Bohle, lighting designer
It was 1975 or ‘76, I was sitting in the last row of the balcony of the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles when the curtain went up on A Chorus Line. Was Tharon speaking directly to me as I was mesmerized by her brilliant work? Music and light, light and music; that is what it was about for me then and what is still about for me today.
Thank you, Tharon, for helping me to understand my career path and passion.
—Steven Rosen, lighting designer, Available Light