I first met Tharon Musser in 1975 and not under relaxed circumstances. I had gone to the Shubert Theatre to visit Gary Shevett, the production electrician of A Chorus Line. I had heard there was a new LS-8 computer lighting console on the show, and I wanted to have a look. It was not a good day for visiting. The LS-8 had failed completely, with some associated smoke. The design team was assembling to run the show that night on a two-scene preset console, which was the only backup system available. Tharon, Richard Winkler (her assistant for the production), Gary Shevett, and Dermot Lynch crammed into the tiny control booth. It was asses and elbows for two hours while Tharon cut cues on the fly and edited others in order to make the show happen. Ninety-six channels on a two-scene preset for the precise cues in ACL was not a fun proposition! I sat outside on the steps of the booth mesmerized by the most amazing lighting I had ever seen in the most incredible show I had ever seen.
After the show, we all sat around working out a plan as to how we could fix this one-off computer that was quite well blown-up. I found myself quickly drafted onto the team, since I had a vacuum solder-sucker and knew what stores on Canal Street had the parts we needed. I was a young kid of 22, but I remember that Tharon instantly treated me as a professional member of the team. That was an approach I saw in her many times during the next 25 years. She had tremendous respect for everybody she worked with, and technical people really wanted to help her create her art for that reason. Thankfully, after about a week of work, we fixed the LS-8.
Fast-forward to 1981 when the first bus-and truck tour of ACL was going out. My company, Production Arts, had developed some new touring packaging and cable systems that might offer a good way for the tour to keep the same number of lights as the Broadway production and set it up quickly. Tharon called me to a meeting at Michael Bennett’s office, I thought simply to give free advice on how to apply our technology to the show, which was going to be supplied by others. Michael said, “Tharon, what should we do?” Tharon replied, “Give the tour to Production Arts.” And this was a big deal. PA was a non-union shop, and all the previous US A Chorus Line companies had been done by Four Star Lighting. She was an amazingly loyal person, and at that moment, I felt the full force of that loyalty.
Some years later, she called the shop and asked me, “What’s the best fixture to use to light this cyc?” I gulped. Tharon Musser is asking me what fixture to use? What a fantastic feeling! If you’re in technical theatre, it doesn’t get much better than this!
Possibly the most fun I’ve had with Tharon outside a bar was the 1999 discussion panel I moderated with Tharon, Abe Jacob, Otts Munderloh, Gary Shevett, Gordon Pearlman (the inventor of the LS-8), and Baayork Lee. We talked about the whole process of creating and executing A Chorus Line, 25 years after it happened. Tharon was truly brilliant, and hearing her talking about her creative relationship with Michael Bennett absolutely captivated the room. And, as was usual with Tharon, we laughed a lot, especially when she explained to Abe Jacob the correct order of priority between lighting and sound when fighting for cubic space in the theatre! Looking back, this was even more special, since I think it may be the last time she sat on a stage and talked to the audience.
I’ve missed her for a number of years since her illness kicked in, but now I really miss her.
Steve Terry, VP of Research & Development at ETC, worked on the original production of A Chorus Line.