Imagineering Broadway – Part Five: Design

This is the fifth in an 8-part series that looks at the process by which Broadway musicals are conceived, developed, and produced through the lens of the Imagineering Process.


Develop the plans and documents that describe and explain how your vision will be brought to life.

The Design stage of a Broadway show is where various show designers begin their work of designing the stage and sets, costumes, makeup, sound, lighting, effects, and other aspects of the show. The goal of these various design disciplines is to help bring the characters and story to life along with the show’s songs and book, which are often also still in process (as it relates to song and book writing, Broadway shows are examples of projects where the Concept Development stage merges with the Design stage, see How Many Steps? on page 126 of The Imagineering Process).


Some specific design elements in Wicked include:

  • The pre-show curtain and stage design featuring the Clock of the Time Dragon atop the stage, a map of the show’s main locations (some of which are familiar to those who have seen The Wizard and Oz film and some not), and tall clockwork towers covered with crawling vines on either side.
  • Costume design that brings a “twisted Edwardian” aesthetic to life, featuring “Edwardian-era suits and dresses, but asymmetrical – the collar might be off center, or the cut of the dress twists around crazily.”
  • Makeup design that features a specific emerald green color for Elphaba’s skin that is also easy to apply, refresh between acts, and remove.
  • Lighting design that balances a “light-costumed pink girl against a dark-costumed green girl” and uses an exact shade of green for Elphaba, who “always has a green light on her, by the way, to accentuate the makeup.”
  • Sound design that not only defines the sound of the show, but also defines the sound for the theater in which the show plays, which involved incorporating speakers into the clockwork towers that stand on either side of the stage.
  • Special effects design that include the Wizard head (the large animated head through which the wizard meets with his subjects), the transformation of the wizard’s monkeys into flying monkeys (the monkeys sprout wings on stage), and the “hydraulic lift and lots of black fabric” used to allow Elphaba to fly.



Some specific design elements in Hamilton include:

  • Set design that evokes both a young and growing New York City, but also the age of shipbuilding, featuring “lots of wood and masonry, all sorts of joists and beams. Part of it looks like scaffolding, part like the hull of a ship. There are burn marks on the wooden beams to mimic the effect of sawtooth friction. Coiled ropes are everywhere, along with details drawn from the corner of modern-day New York City that remain truest to Hamilton’s time.”
  • Costume design that combined fashion sensibilities of the past and present, resulting in an “intensely authentic design. ‘Period from the neck down, modern from the neck up.’” and that put “all of the actors in parchment-toned clothes…adding color only when they distinguished themselves as specific characters.”
  • A turntable stage that “add[s] energy and motion to the action…[and] create[s] more possibilities for the hurricane, the dual, and even the evocation of street life in New York.” The show uses two turntables that provide subtle effects: “Counterclockwise motion…suggested the passage of time; clockwise suggested resistance to the inevitable.”
  • Prop design that “carried verisimilitude as far as it could go”, including newspapers that featured “stories that ran in actual New York newspapers, drawn from the exact month the scene takes place”, real wax candles and personalized wax seals.


Previous Imagineering Broadway installments:




Thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think!

4 thoughts on “Imagineering Broadway – Part Five: Design

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