Tony-Winning Costume and Scenic Designer Franne Lee Dies at 81 | Playbill

Obituaries Tony-Winning Costume and Scenic Designer Franne Lee Dies at 81

Ms. Lee costumed the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd and the 1974 revival of Candide.

Franne Lee, three-time Tony Award-winning costume and scenic designer, died August 27 at the age of 81, according to an announcement by her daughter Stacy Sandler. 

Ms. Lee was born Frances Elaine Newman on December 30, 1941. She studied painting at the University of Wisconsin but soon pivoted into theatre and design. Her career in New York began when she designed the costumes for Andre Gregory’s Off-Off-Broadway production of Alice in Wonderland, for which she received an Obie Award (she was credited as Franne Newman). It was her first time working with set designer Eugene Lee, who became her longtime collaborator and partner—she also took his name. Ms. Lee made her Broadway debut when she did the production design for the 1972 musical Dude

She then went on to design the set and costumes for the 1974 Broadway revival of Candide. Her other Broadway credits included Love for Love, The Skin of our TeethSome of My Best FriendsSweeney ToddGilda Radner - Live from New YorkThe Moony Shapiro Songbook, and Rock 'N Roll! The First 5,000 Years. She also provided additional costume design for the 1993 revival of Camelot

Ms. Lee and Eugene Lee won the 1974 Tony Award for Best Scenic Design for Candide, and Ms. Lee also won the award for Best Costume Design. In 1979, she took home her third Tony Award, for Best Costume Design for Sweeney Todd

Ms. Lee was also active in television, and worked as production and costume designer for the first five years of Saturday Night Live, beginning in 1975. Ms. Lee was nominated for two Emmy Awards, the 1977 Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction or Scenic Design for a Comedy-Variety or Music Series, and the 1978 Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction for a Comedy-Variety or Music Series. She created the looks for many fan-favorite SNL characters, such as the Killer Bees, the Coneheads, and the Blues Brothers.

Camelot was Ms. Lee's final Broadway project in 1993, but she stayed active designing for numerous regional theatres. Ms. Lee designed costumes for institutions such as The Chicago Lyric Opera, The Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Lake Worth Playhouse, and Richmond Shakespeare Festival, among others. 

Ms. Lee also kept her artistic skills sharp through other mediums, often sharing her paintings and other works online. In recent years, she focused on visual art, including a series about birds, which she called "Franne Birds." 

Ms. Lee is survived by her daughter Stacy Sandler and son Geoffrey Sandler (from her first marriage to Ralph Sandler), son Willie Lee (her son with Eugene Lee), brother Bill Newman, six grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter. Eugene Lee passed away in February.

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