Theater Posters as Art and Commerce: Fraver By Design

Some of the theater posters Frank Verlizzo designed hang on the famous flop wall of Joe Allan’s restaurant. Some hold a prominent place in the homes of grateful Broadway stars. But many are images embedded in various parts of our brain via images in newspaper ads, on the side of buses, t-shirts, album covers, and up and down the Great White Way.
Many of those posters appeared in an exhibition at the New York Library or the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, and are now in his coffee table book, “Fraver by Design: Five Decades of Theatre Poster Art from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Beyond” Fraver has been his pen name since his student days at New York’s High School of Art and Design (combining the first three letters of his first and last names)
Click on any of the photographs of his posters below to read the captions explaining some aspect of the process of putting them together. “Fraver By Design”  contains these observations and anecdotes in six chapters — Broadway, Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Off-Broadway, Beyond, and Unpublished —  as well as those of 22 people with whom he’s worked over the past half century – producers, playwrights and stars like Judy Kaye and Bernadette Peters.
The art of theater poster design is inextricably linked to its commercial appeal:
“I must distill a two-and-a-half hour stage production into an image that is memorable and eye-catching, but most of all serves as an effective selling tool.”
This distillation is a tricky business, as press agent Susan L. Schulman observes in the book:
“It can’t give away too much but just enough to intrigue.”
When a show is not doing well at the box office, we learn, the producers sometimes hope that a redesign of the poster will cause an upswing.
The posters vary between graphic design and illustration, but they do seem to share Fraver’s general approach. “In my years of advertising,” Fraver himself says, “if I’ve learned nothing else, it is that simple is better.”


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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