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The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Brings a New Look to the Ed Sullivan Theater

Rose Brand Chameleon ShowLED drop prominently displayed above center stage

When Stephen Colbert started his tenure on The Late Show, it began a new era in his career and initiated a face lift for the show’s home, the Ed Sullivan Theater. The Ed Sullivan Theater began as a Broadway house and Colbert is a fan of its architecture and history. 

Jim Fenhagen, Executive Vice President of Design at Jack Morton/PDG and Scenic Designer for the project, worked very closely with Colbert to design the set. Fenhagen was quoted in Lighting and Sound America saying, “Stephen wanted to celebrate this gorgeous old theatre that had been covered over through the years with sound-proofing and lighting grids." He added, "We really didn’t feel the theatre until we renovated it. We integrated the set with the theatre in a way that created this sort of modern vs. classical architecture, which is a fun tension."

Fenhagen also said, “Some of our design choices are about using architecture to make it feel more intimate – bringing the focus down, controlling the eye, and getting people to look toward the center. We have a giant proscenium arch to fill, because we wanted to expose it all, so I hung a [Chameleon ShowLED] star curtain from Rose Brand in the big giant arch above my canopy ceiling. It’s a great solution and adds a little bit of pizzazz.”

The set was built by the Emmy-Award Winning fabricator, blackwalnut, who asked Rose Brand to build the star drop curtain. Frank Bradley, blackwalnut Director, Estimating & Project Management, described the intricate details of the star drop. Bradley explains, “The drop had to be made according to the curve in the theater proscenium, which was fairly difficult to survey. Fortunately, during the renovation we discovered an old Broadway-style flat that looked like it dated to the 1950’s that was the shape of the proscenium arch. The house crew pulled it down and sent it to us so we could make templates.” The drawings from blackwalnut were then used to create sewing plans for the curtain. The finished drop used 512 LEDs to fill its 23’-10” high by 39’ wide dimensions. While the drop may look small on camera against the large stage (the stage measures 72’ wide and 60’ deep), the height of the curtain is equal to 4x the height of an average American man.

The LED nodes of the star drop curtain are bright and bold so they attract the viewer’s eye, accomplishing Fenhagen’s goal of attracting viewers to the center. The brightness of the LEDs was diffused with a black sheer drape to create the perfect starry, “Corona Effect”, which added elegance to the set. 

For a job this important, blackwalnut chose Rose Brand in part because of our work ethic. Bradley jokes, “We have a long standing relationship with Rose Brand and our rep, Jennifer Perez, has made a habit of pulling off both major and minor miracles for us. There was no question as to who would nail the details of the project in such a tight turnaround."

The design process for The Late Show brought together a number of creative teams that had worked through the years to make The Colbert Report a success. Bradley explains, “It was exciting to see so many players getting a shot at the big stage and high stakes of late night TV. Accordingly, we brought in our ringers—Rose Brand. They were one of our key vendors back when we built the Colbert sets for Comedy Central and we knew we could count on them to have our back on this one.”

While the curtain may be made of Encore Velour, it’s Stephen Colbert who keeps getting asked for an encore on stage. 

Product: ShowLED Chameleon Scenic Design: Jack Morton/PDG Scene Shop: blackwalnut Photo: Raeford Dwyer, courtesy of Jack Morton/PDG Parts reprinted with permission from Lighting and Sound America, "The Talk of the Town", January 2016

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