Theatrical lighting designer Martin Aronstein, a five-time Tony nominee and one of the outstanding designers in Los Angeles theater, died of heart failure May 3 at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys. He was 65.
Born in Pittsfield, Mass., and raised in New York, Aronstein began working for the New York Shakespeare Festival soon after leaving Queens College in the late 1950s. He remained affiliated with the organization until 1977.
He began designing for Broadway in 1963, with “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” and acquired more than 100 Broadway credits, including “Forty Carats,” “Cactus Flower,” “Tiny Alice,” “Promises, Promises” and “Play It Again, Sam.” His work on “The Royal Hunt of the Sun” was credited as the first Broadway design to use exposed lighting as an integral part of the production.
Aronstein received Tony Award nominations in three successive years: for “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death” in 1972, “Much Ado About Nothing” in 1973 and “In the Boom Boom Room” in 1974. He was nominated twice more for Tonys, for “Medea” in 1982 and “Wild Honey” in 1987, which originated at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
Aronstein moved to Sherman Oaks in 1977.
In Southern California, he worked at the Ahmanson, the Mark Taper Forum, the Pasadena Playhouse and the Tiffany Theaters and for McCoy Rigby Entertainment, whose Aronstein-lighted “Peter Pan” at the La Mirada Theatre went on to Broadway.
“He could take something so plain and make it magical,” said Cathy Rigby, the “Peter Pan” star. Underneath his “gruff and crotchety” exterior, she said, “he was incredibly soft-hearted and loyal.”
Scenic designer John Iacovelli said Aronstein “could do so much with so little. Some shows use thousands of lights. On ‘Peter Pan,’ he used 150--to amazing effect. He showed me it doesn’t take much to evoke a moment or a mood. That’s why producers loved him.”
Aronstein won Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards in 1983 for the Taper’s “A Month in the Country” and in 1984 for the same theater’s “Passion Play.” In 1996, he won the circle’s Angstrom Award for career achievement in lighting.
Aronstein’s work outside New York and Los Angeles included 30 shows at the Kennedy Center in Washington and serving the last 10 seasons as resident lighting designer at the 12,000-seat St. Louis Muny.
He is survived by his partner, Larry Metzler.
A memorial service will be held June 30 at 11 a.m. at the Taper.