Broadway set and costume designer David Zinn's been nominated for two Tonys, to be handed out Sunday. “It’s a little crazy,” said Zinn, who grew up on Bainbridge Island.
One Tony Award nomination for a theatrical designer is an honor. Two, in two different categories? That’s a double whammy of the best kind.
Though he’s not one for glitzy parties, Bainbridge Island native David Zinn has been down the Tony red carpet before. In 2010, he was nominated for his Broadway costume designs for the Sarah Ruhl play, “In the Next Room.”
This time around, when the 2015 Tonys are handed out in a televised ceremony at Radio City Musical Hall on Sunday, June 7, he’s being singled out for his expert costuming again (in “Airline Highway,” the Lisa D’Amour play about flamboyant New Orleans eccentrics). But he’s also a contender for a set-design prize, for the offbeat hit musical “Fun Home.”
The 69th annual Tony Awards
8 p.m. Sunday, June 7, on CBS. Look for advance coverage Sunday in the NW Arts & Life section and at seattletimes.com/entertainment.
“It’s a little crazy,” said Zinn from his New York City studio. “I’ve been so busy working I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it.”
Busy indeed. Zinn and his cadre of assistants also have created the costumes for Broadway’s “An Act of God,” a current new show starring “Big Bang Theory” co-star Jim Parsons. And earlier in the 2014-15 season he did the sets for a revival of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal.
His most massive recent endeavor was composing both epic sets and working-class garb for the ambitious, short-lived Sting-composed musical, “The Last Ship.” For that gig he had to evoke a working shipyard, a community pub and the last vessel built in a seaside Northern England town that had long relied on the industry.
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Despite a $15 million production budget, Zinn said he needed to “suggest different locations by using a lot of scaffolding and fencing,” and collaborating closely with lighting designer Christopher Akerlind.
Dressing the actors in “Airline Highway” was easier, and fun. “It’s mostly about shopping — looking for things in thrift stores and other places that express the characters,” Zinn noted, who tries to perfectly match his designs to the writer and director’s conceptions.
“We started the show [in Chicago] at Steppenwolf Theatre, and it was a really cool project. The fact that it moved to Broadway was a surprise.”
Another surprise transfer to Times Square was “Fun Home,” which debuted at Off Broadway’s Public Theater and is now in residence at Circle in the Square. Working on this unconventional and moving coming-of-age, coming-out family story based on a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel was “a labor of love for such a long time.”
Like many shows he toils on, “Fun Home” had a long gestation process — from early readings to workshops to full production. Then Zinn had to reconfigure the proscenium style sets for the in-the-round Broadway staging. “It actually worked really, really well,” When we moved the show we thought, ‘Oh God, there are so many musicals opening now that it will just disappear.’”
Not so. “Fun Home” received rapturous reviews and picked up 12 Tony nominations — including Zinn’s and one for Best Musical.
The bearded, good-natured Zinn is clearly a team player, and modest about his achievements. He grew up on Bainbridge, and was a self-described “theater nerd” at Bainbridge High School.
After obtaining a degree from New York University, Zinn would periodically return to Seattle for assignments with local companies — Intiman, New City, ACT Theatre. He was back in 2007, when he designed costumes for ACT’s version of Clare Boothe Luce’s “The Women.” He memorably dressed the all-female cast in outfits chichi Manhattan trophy wives might wear to lunch, nightclubs and gossip sessions in the 1930s.
He’s had his hands full since then, stacking up credits and becoming one of New York top stage designers. But Zinn insists that he’d love to return to his old Seattle stomping grounds sometime for a project — “if someone invites me to.”