For 35 years Frank Verlizzo has created some of Broadway's most indelible images. Known in the industry as "Fraver" (an amalgam combining the first three letters of his first and last names), he has created key art for some 300 shows, originating, along the way, the iconic imagery for some of theatre's most beloved shows.
Who can forget the shadowy figures of a black-and-white Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney dripping with blood in the poster for the original Sweeney Todd? Or the torn George Seurat painting resting atop denim- and pantyhose-clad legs in the poster for the original Sunday in the Park with George?
It's Fraver's job to get your attention and make you want to see a show in a single glance.
"I just try to translate it into something that is pleasing to me and that also attracts someone walking down the street," he says. "That's really the ultimate goal of posters." He recently went solo, opening up his own design agency, truly a majority of one but with seven clients lined up like dominos the very first week that his shingle went up.
Playbill wanted to get inside the mind of the man whose life mission is to make art of art by asking him to put a Fraver-esque spin on some fictional theatrical mashups of iconic shows. Here's what he came up with:
The Kiss of the Spider-Man represents a visual merging of the high-kicking Kander & Ebb razzle-dazzle with the Marvel comic-book escapades of Stan Lee.
"I always try to keep things simple and tell a little bit of the story," Fraver says. "It's impossible to come up with a visual image that tells the entire story, but it's possible to come up with one that gives you a feeling for the kind of evening ahead of you.
"I took my cue, just as a graphic artist, from figuring out what I'd do with a spider web for a love story. It's a web coming out from a heart, and the Spider-Man is very much in a Liza Minnelli-Cabaret-ish kind of mode, wearing a bowler even.
"The reason I made Spider-Man look a little fey was that I was basing him on the Kander & Ebb Kiss of the Spider Woman, which had a gay love story, so I blended in the Spider-Man trappings with the Spider Woman plot."
"Sweetie Todd," Fraver says, "transplants Stephen Sondheim's slasher musical in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory and conveys the classic violence of old nursery rhymes.
"I thought an interesting and non-grisly way of presenting this would be with a decapitated gingerbread man. The blood is really icing, but you get the sense that his head has been snapped off or cut off. It was very attention-getting. Anyone walking by would stop to look at it. You never see a gingerbread man in distress.
"I chose the kind of lettering you would see on a candy box. I was still envisioning the story happening in Victorian times so I used the background of Victorian wallpaper pattern. That gives a little sense of period. The gingerbread man is universal and has been around for eons, but the wallpaper pinpoints it to Victorian.
"Once I related it to candies and cookies and sweets, this was a fairly simple ad."
Hello, Delhi! is a marriage of Bollywood movies and Jerry Herman's musical. As Fraver sees it, Mrs. Dolly Levi is played by Hindu goddess Kali, renowned for six arms flapping in the wind and a huge red tongue sticking out of her mouth.
"I actually did use Carol Channing's face," he admits sheepishly — but with a proprietary right: "Over the years, I've worked on many tours Carol Channing did with Hello, Dolly!, and every image, of course, was her with her arms up. I thought it'd be funny if her arms were still outstretched and there were six of them.
"And I used a lot of pink. We all know that pink is the [David] Merrick Red of India."
For a backdrop, Fraver relied on the Harmonia Gardens to supply him with the show's iconic visual. "It always seems if you see waiters dancing, you think of Hello, Dolly!" He even has a jumping waiter levitating above the show's logo.
So, will we ever get to see a Hindu Dolly Levi? Or Spider-Man in a bowler hat? Or hear the songs of Treat Street? Probably not. So it's back to the drawing board for Fraver. But he doesn't mind. "I love theatre and this work. It's a perfect storm for me."