Hairspray, Kinky Boots and Academy Awards Designer David Rockwell on the Theatre's "Iconic and Influential" Sets

News   Hairspray, Kinky Boots and Academy Awards Designer David Rockwell on the Theatre's "Iconic and Influential" Sets
 
In Playbill.com's latest feature series, we ask theatre artists to offer a selection of the stage creations that were influential to their own work. The series continues with Emmy Award-winning and Tony-nominated scenic designer David Rockwell, who shares his list of iconic and influential set designs from Broadway and Off-Broadway.

David Rockwell
David Rockwell Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Rockwell, a three-time Tony Award nominee, made his Broadway debut with the 2000 revival of The Rocky Horror Show and has since created unforgettable designs for over a dozen shows, including Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Legally Blonde, Elf, Catch Me If You Can, The Normal Heart, Lucky Guy, Side Show and the upcoming revival of On the Twentieth Century starring Kristin Chenoweth.

Also the founder of the New York City-based architecture and design firm The Rockwell Group, he has twice designed the set for the Academy Awards and earned a Primetime Emmy Award for his work in 2010.

Click through to read Rockwell's selections of influential scenic designs from Broadway and Off-Broadway.

Boris Aronson - Fiddler on the Roof  (Original Broadway Production)

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My first Broadway experience was Fiddler. Boris Aronson’s revolving turntable swung into view, and I caught my first glimpse of the designer’s Chagall-like vision of the 1905 Russian-Jewish town of Anetevka. The performance made me realize live theatre’s extraordinary power is when the music, storytelling, design and direction all are in unison. I was hooked. I still am.

Robin Wagner - Dreamgirls (Original Broadway Production)

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Utilizing four revolving light towers, Robin Wagner created a kinetic set design that rarely ceased moving, creating a variety of spaces and refocusing the audience’s perspective as it went along. The result was consistently exciting, visually stimulating and brand new. Nothing would be the same after this triumphant marriage of technology, showbiz know-how and the sophisticated use of automation.

Santo Loquasto - Café Crown

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Santo Loquasto's ravishing vision of a café that had been the watering hole of New York City's long bygone Lower Second Avenue's Yiddish theatre was a gleaming, glowing delight. The details were so perfect there were even pickles on every table. As the Jewish waiter in the play kept remarking, "You'll love it," and I did.

Bob Crowley - Carousel (1994 Broadway Revival)

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From the very first moment, Bob Crowley’s delicate and poignant design stressed the fact that Carousel is a musical about life and death and patterns repeating themselves. The huge clock in the mill, the carousel, the rounded section of hill where Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow sing "If I Loved You" – all circles and the perfect visual metaphor for Crowley’s absolutely perfect design concept.

Scott Pask - The Pillowman

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In the upper portion of his foreboding interrogation-room set, Scott Pask created a playing space that played host to the fever dreams of a writer’s frenzied imagination. Forced perspective and other ingenious design tricks created a world that startled and terrified.

Derek McLane - I Am My Own Wife

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To visualize the bizarre and fascinating life of German collector/preservationist/transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, Derek McLane created an immense, translucent rear wall that housed the transvestite art collector's collection of priceless clocks, gramophones, credenzas and other furniture. The faultless stage picture effortlessly evoked the overwhelming passions that reside in the heart of anyone whose life is devoted to collecting and preserving works of art.

David Korins - Here Lies Love

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Encased in David Korins' constantly shifting disco magic box, my state of amazement remained on high alert as the space surrounding me kept swirling and changing shape. Korins' pulsating live-in dance palace was environmental theatre at its sophisticated, highly-polished best.

Donyale Werle - Peter and the Starcatcher

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Werle's delightful, fresh-faced, life-sized Victorian toy theatre was a model of spontaneity and playfulness, and I loved the proscenium embedded with utensils, corks, rope, cooking timers, buttons and much more.

Peter Larkin - The Rink

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The eleven o'clock number in The Rink wasn't a song, but the set itself as Peter Larkin's huge, scrupulously-detailed, dilapidated, family-owned boardwalk roller rink was miraculously lifted upward until it disappeared from view. In place of the stark realism, we were left with the horizon, a staircase on which stood the silhouette of warring mother Chita Rivera and daughter Liza Minnelli, who had finally come to peace. Simple, stunning, eminently surprising.

Es Delvin - Machinal (2014 Broadway Revival)

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In this rare opportunity to see a 1920s expressionistic play, Es Devlin’s huge, lavish, mazelike machine of a set slowly and surely kept spinning as the humanity of every character that inhabited it was turned into dust. The design was stunning, and the play, emotionally scary.

Tony Walton – Pippin (Original Broadway Production)

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Tony Walton's painterly quality and ability to materialize magic seemingly out of thin air absolutely made Pippin required viewing. The transition of the rope castle pulled inexplicably out of the stage was a seductive wonder. It proved so fascinating that I saw Pippin two nights in a row.

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