Ming Cho Lee: Set Designer Extraordinaire

Ming Cho Lee: Set Designer Extraordinaire

Scale model of Ming Cho Lee’s set design for the Coronation scene in “Boris Godunov,” staged by New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1974. (Courtesy Ming Cho Lee)

Like the forbidding 55-foot-tall ice wall that he designed for the play “K2” (and for which he won a 1983 Tony Award), Ming Cho Lee, the Shanghai-born éminence grise of American theater, looms large. Active on Broadway between 1956 and 1986, he was associated with no fewer than 33 productions. But his renown extends beyond the Great White Way to cities and regional theaters across the United States and abroad. As importantly, he has designed for the opera (most notably the Metropolitan Opera’s majestic production of “Boris Godunov,” shown here, which he describes in hindsight, and perhaps with false modesty, as “unnecessarily dense and complicated—a college run riot”) and ballet. His association and collaboration with Martha Graham is legendary. Legendary, too, is his tenure at the Yale School of Drama, where, as teacher and co-chair of the school’s design department for more than 40 years, he has taught and influenced a Who’s Who of notable designers, including fellow Tony Award winners Michael Yeargen, John Lee Beatty and Heidi Landesman.

With his 86th birthday fast approaching in October, New York’s Museum of Chinese in America hosts a retrospective, “Stage Design by Ming Cho Lee,” on view thru Sept. 11. Consisting of drawings and maquettes, the exhibition distills Lee’s range, which embraces architecture, sculpture, abstraction and pure visual poetry. It’s a must-see show for every theater buff. For a preview, check out the slides below.

“Stage Design by Ming Cho Lee,” Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre St., 212.955.6622, www.mocanyc.org

A word about the Museum of Chinese in America, which is closed on Mondays: The 15,000-square-foot-space was designed by Maya Lin, whose sensitive concept and design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., catapulted her to the forefront of contemporary architects when she was only 21. The museum’s core exhibition is “With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America.”