Keeping Broadway burning bright is no easy job. The numerous technicians who work long hours often get very little recognition for the invaluable service they provide on each and every production. Still, there is not a lighting designer who accepts a Tony Award without thanking his or her crew, especially the production electrician. Taking that a step further, this year the EDDY Awards recognizes one of those tireless technicians behind the scenes: production electrician Michael LoBue. “Mike possesses the most essential quality of the finest production electrician: leadership,” say lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer.
LoBue has been working on Broadway for 20 years. “I came off the road in 1980 and did several Broadway shows as an assistant electrician, then head electrician,” he recalls. “I was intrigued by the whole process of production and wanted to be more involved. I learned to do the layouts and prep work from my two mentors and close friends, [production electricians] Jim Spradling and Paul Everett.” The two veterans have watched LoBue grow as an electrician. “He has worked with a number of very different designers, all with unique working styles, and he has crafted a wonderful career for himself,” says Everett. “He has all the talent, personality, and managerial skill to make it all happen.” Adds Spradling, “I've known Mike for 20 years. He is very good at his job; he is especially good at the large shows.” For his part, LoBue sees the two men as his mentors. “They taught me that the better prepared the show is prepped at the shop, the better prepared you are to deal with the many surprises that come your way during the production.”
LoBue's first show as production electrician was in 1992 on Kiss of the Spider Woman for lighting designer Howell Binkley. “It was also Howell's first Broadway show so it was really special, a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot from it,” remembers LoBue. Binkley, who has over the years continued to work with LoBue when possible and counts him as a friend, says, “I'm very proud of him and his success. I'm always thrilled to work with him and I'm sure the other lighting designers would say the same. He is not only wonderful at his job but he is also a great collaborator.”
Over the years LoBue has worked on some of Broadway's biggest and most challenging shows, including Saturday Night Fever with Andrew Bridge, Victor/Victoria with Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Hairspray with Ken Posner, and the new revival of Nine with Brian MacDevitt. Because of its cutting-edge gear, Hairspray proved particularly challenging. “There was a lot of new technology in Hairspray, especially the LED wall,” says Posner. “Mike really did his homework, really made that part of the process seamless. His knowledge of technology is really exemplary.” LoBue feels that kind of challenge is one of the best parts of his job. “I love being able to try out all the newest technologies,” he says. “It's been a challenge trying to keep up with an industry that changes so dramatically every few years. It is a constant learning experience that I thrive on.”
Collaborating with the lighting designer is another bonus for LoBue. “I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to make each design work for the designer, so they have the freedom and necessary tools to do their work,” he says. For a designer like Posner, that is ideal in a production electrician. “I always like to tell my production electrician, ‘Don't do what I say, do what I mean,’ and Mike gets that. He can take an idea and interpret it; he really gets behind the production and the design.”
LoBue has also earned the reputation of being one of the good guys on Broadway. “Mike is one of the nicest, one of the best electricians I ever worked with, and a super-fantastic guy,” enthuses Mark Vassallo of Electronic Theatre Controls. Adds Everett, “Mike is a friend of 20 years — he is like my younger brother. I couldn't be happier for his success.” No wonder LoBue loves his job. “I enjoy the camaraderie with the people that I have been working with for many years.”
Still, there is one downside to LoBue's busy schedule and long career. “The thing I really hate about the job is the amount of time it takes me away from my family. There were many events in my son Michael's and my daughter Dana's lives that my wife Tina had to attend without me. That has been the hardest part. Now, I make as much time as I can to be with them and let them know how much they mean to me.” Family, friends, and the respect of his colleagues — looks like Michael LoBue has earned more than just an EDDY Award.