Capturing a Moment Pittsburgh Native Joan Marcus Wins a Special Tony for Her Iconic Images of Broadway Shows

By Sciullo, Maria | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

Capturing a Moment Pittsburgh Native Joan Marcus Wins a Special Tony for Her Iconic Images of Broadway Shows


Sciullo, Maria, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Joan Marcus doesn't sing or dance. Nor does she write plays, music or lyrics. She has no lighting or costume design credits to her name.

Still, if you're a fan of Broadway shows, you have seen her work. From the Emerald City in "Wicked" to the clueless missionaries in Africa in "The Book of Mormon," images shot by Ms. Marcus are iconic and enduring.

She recently was presented with an honorary Tony Award and, unlike those walking the red carpet tonight at Radio City Music Hall, Ms. Marcus can sit back and relax from a prime seat at the ceremony.

"I truly like what I do," said Ms. Marcus, who grew up in Highland Park and Stanton Heights, graduating from Peabody High School and later, George Washington University. "I love going to a play. I love the backstage stuff of it. Now I love seeing people I've worked with for years, and I love getting the work recognition."

"It's so great," said her husband, Adrian Bryan-Brown, a top New York theatrical press agent. She works so hard, and to be recognized like this, it's just the bee's knees."

The Broadway scene has long had its share of photographers who created classic images. Leo Friedman and Joseph Abeles were the go- to men for press photos in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Friedman was responsible for the great 1957 image of Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert dashing up a city sidewalk for the original production of "West Side Story."

Martha Swope, now retired, is another well-known name for her decades of capturing the beauty and drama of the New York dance and theater scene. Ms. Marcus' catalog spans more than two decades, including two Idina Menzel musicals ("Wicked" and the current "If/ Then"), Carnegie Mellon University graduate Patina Miller in "Pippin," and the current revival of "Cabaret."

"She has this great aesthetic, clearly, but I just think it was a case of finding something she loves as opposed to knowing what she loved," Mr. Bryan-Brown said.

She's not alone in the field.

"There are way more names out there now because it's much easier to do," said Ms. Marcus, whose career began in an era of film and darkrooms. "Now you need a camera and a computer."

Ms. Marcus's was an unlikely path to Broadway. She'd studied both photography and sociology at GW but had no intention of making either a vocation. At one point, she was headed to the University of California, Berkeley, to pursue a graduate degree in landscape architecture but deferred acceptance, permanently as it so happened.

"I had a million jobs, [but] no direction at all, none," Ms. Marcus said, laughing. "A friend and I started this weird blue jean skirt business before they made them at The Gap. We would sell them at AU [American University]; we were too embarrassed to sell them at GW."

After the sewing machine broke, she was off to another job, any job, including print work for a doctor who was writing a book on plastic surgery at the GW medical school. There was work doing computer graphics at a local TV news station.

She began working in the box office at the American Film Institute at Kennedy Center. "I noticed they had a photographer, and I wondered, 'Did he have a printer? -- someone to help him.

"Turns out, he was swamped. He said 'Can you help me print?' And that was it."

A major performing arts center is a small city unto itself, as Ms. …

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