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By Design: David Korins’ Sets For Beetlejuice

Directed by Alex Timbers with scenery by David Korins, costumes by William Ivey Long, lighting by Kenneth Posner, sound by Peter Hylenski, projection by Peter Nigrini, puppets by Michael Curry, special effects by Jeremy Chernick, and illusions by Michael Weber, Beetlejuice has made a successful transition from Hollywood to Broadway. One of the most acclaimed musicals of the season, with eight Tony nominations including Best Musical, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design, Best Lighting (for Posner and Nigrini), and Best Sound Design, the stage version of this Tim Burton classic 1988 film opened in April 2019 at the Winter Garden. Live Design chats with the Tony-nominated scenic designer David Korins about his work on this production.

Live Design: How much did the film influence the musical? Did you use the film and Tim Burton's universe as a visual reference point?

David Korins: The film obviously served as a leaping off place, but our show is decidedly not Beetlejuice the movie but is instead Beetlejuice: The Musical. We definitely wanted to honor the entire oeuvre of the Burtonian landscape. A lot of people don’t realize that Beetlejuice was Tim Burton’s second film, so when people think about Tim Burton’s visual vocabulary, it sort of blends together with all of his different worlds and iconic uses of imagery. We have many, many Easter eggs of Tim Burton’s various creations stashed in and around the set to both directly and indirectly reference the worlds of Coraline, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and more.

Matthew Murphyscenic design for Beetlejuice the Musical

LD: Can you talk about the house and how it is seen? What informed your design choices for that?

DK: So the play dictates a lot of things that have to happen to the house. One of the most amazing things is being asked to change the entirety of the house four different times—all the walls, furniture, dressing, lighting fixtures, frames, doors, fireplace. It’s one of those incredibly exciting and challenging designs because the entire thing goes through a complete transformation four times. We see it at first as owned by the Maitlands as a kind of country-chic, Victorian home. We then get to see it bought by the Deetz’s and sort of stripped of all it’s antiquery. Then the house goes through a third transformation when Beetlejuice and Lydia dominate and haunt the house. Then finally, a fourth transformation occurs once Beetlejuice decides to make turn the whole place into a game show. What’s amazing about it under its four guises is that we tried to honor Tim Burton’s drawing aesthetic and the idea of a homemade, do-it-yourself quality in every single piece of scenery. It’s all hand-drawn with hand hash marks, shading, and line work. We built a half inch model and went through the painstaking process of literally drawing onto every single piece of scenery so that once translated onto the full-scale piece, it would feel like it was created by hand. The house is skewed in perspective and generally gives a haunted feeling and an open-mouth kind of feeling as the stage stretches out and reaches toward the audience. It’s one of those rare instances in the theatre where extreme scene changes are not done just at intermission, but are done during the action of the show.

LD: How are the set pieces constructed? Is there lighting embedded?

DK: This is by far the most technically difficult or complicated design I’ve ever designed. Each piece of scenery, which is created to eventually look hand drawn with a homemade aesthetic is embedded with some kind light, speaker, magic tricks, illusion, opening for a puppet, or something else.

Matthew Murphyscenic design for Beetlejuice the Musical

LD: What was the biggest challenge and the most satisfying thing about working on this show?

DK: One of the biggest challenges of working on Beetlejuice: The Musical was to try and take not only Beetlejuice the movie’s aesthetic but really all of Tim Burton’s entire visual vocabulary for his filmwork and kind of mash it up into one Burtonian world or landscape. Perhaps the most satisfying thing was to find a way to create ten entirely cohesive designs, in particular of the Maitland’s home, which we get to see in four different versions. It’s so satisfying to be able to completely transport that environment into four different complete looks.

LD: Congrats on the Tony nominations to you and the design team. Can you talk a little about the collaboration with the other designers?

DK: Normally on a regular Broadway musical, you have four designers: scenery, costumes, lighting, and sound. With Beetlejuice: The Musical, we have eight designers: the typical four plus projections, special effects, magic, and puppetry. I think that all of our work really shows and that we really had “Best Idea Wins” kind of conversations. It was a really seamless collaboration. It’s hard to look at our design and see where the lighting and projections start and the scenery ends, where puppets begin and costumes end. It’s all mashed together, almost like a hive mind. Every single designer working on this project is a person who is working at the top of their game. I felt honored just to be included on that list.

Click through the slideshow for a look at Korins' renderings and sketches for Beetlejuice: The Musical.

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