The Evolution of the Playbill Design From 1885–2018

Lists   The Evolution of the Playbill Design From 1885–2018
 
Take a look at more than a century of evolution in the look of Broadway’s most-iconic magazine.
Iconic_Playbills_Graphic_HR

Though Playbill’s trademark yellow-and-black logo is nearly synonymous with Broadway today, Broadway Playbills have featured a number of different designs over the last century. As the company was established in 1885, see iterations of Playbill (and pre-Playbill program) design and learn when each came to be.

Beginning in 1885
1920 to mid-1930s: Pre-Playbill

Winter-Garden-Standard-Cover-Playbill-1925   HR.jpg
Winter Garden Standard Cover Playbill – 1925

Though many of Broadway’s Playbills were published by the company that would later become the modern day Playbill, Inc., the Playbill name didn’t exist until the 1930s. Early programs often simply bore the name of the venue, or titles like The Stage. The earliest attempt at program consistency across Broadway were 1920s covers that featured artwork representative of the venue that remained the same show to show, like this 1925 cover from the Winter Garden Theatre.

Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1930 Playbill - Opening Night
Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1930 Playbill - Opening Night

Though still not published with the name Playbill, this cover from Earl Carroll’s Vanities of 1930 was one of the first to use the sepia color and text format that would become the general template for Playbill covers through the 1950s.

Mid-1930s: Productions Adopt the Name “The Playbill”

<i>Life Begins at 8:40</i> Playbill - Opening Night
Life Begins at 8:40 Playbill - Opening Night

The Playbill name arrives on covers officially in the mid-1930s. This 1934 Winter Garden Theatre cover for Life Begins at 8:40—which featured two soon-to-be Wizard of Oz film co-stars, Ray Bolger and Bert Lahr—shows a Playbill of its day. Notice at this point it’s “The” Playbill.

Kill That Story Playbill - Opening Night
Kill That Story Playbill - Opening Night

There is no standard logo during this period. Kill That Story, which opened at the Booth Theatre a few days after Life Begins at 8:40, featured “The Playbill” in a different font and printed on a banner.

Order Please Playbill - Opening Night
Order Please Playbill - Opening Night

This logo—from the Playbill for Order Please at the Playhouse Theatre in 1934—is the most common design during this period, though not the only one. If you have a font called "Playbill" on your computer, this is the design on which that font is based.

Anything Goes Playbill - July 1935
Anything Goes Playbill - July 1935

The cover for the 1934 original production of Anything Goes is an early example of show-specific artwork appearing on a Playbill cover, though you’ll notice the title of the production is nowhere to be found.

Late 1930s: Show Titles Appear on the Cover

The Masque of Kings Playbill - Opening Night
The Masque of Kings Playbill - Opening Night

Show titles begin appearing on Playbill covers as early as 1937, as in this cover from The Masque of Kings.

Yes, My Darling Daughter Playbill - Opening Night
Yes, My Darling Daughter Playbill - Opening Night

This script Playbill logo, seen here on the cover for 1937’s Yes, My Darling Daughter, is one of the more popular variants of the font.

1940s: Playbill Branding Moves Around

The Glass Menagerie Playbill - Aug 1945
The Glass Menagerie Playbill - Aug 1945

By the mid-1940s, this format—with the show’s title above a production photo and the Playbill logo—is the most common. This cover is from the original production of The Glass Menagerie in 1945.

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Death of a Salesman

A slightly new logo—with a de-emphasis on the “The,” and “Playbill” in solid black text—begins appearing in the late 1940s, such as this cover from the original production of Death of a Salesman in 1949.

1950s: Just “Playbill”—and the first major re-design

West Side Story Playbill - October 1960
West Side Story Playbill - October 1960

“The Playbill” became Playbill, as we know and love it today, in the late 1950s. This is also the first time that Playbill got a major re-design and the first major standardized cover format, seen here in this 1960 cover for West Side Story. The font used for “Playbill,” while similar to the prior font, is shorter and features the angled serifs that we still use today. The theatre name is printed to the left of the Playbill header, with the bulk of the cover used for black-and-white production photography and the title of the show in a plain font.

Though most shows used the now-trademark yellow background header, a number of non-yellow colors were used as well, as seen in these covers from the original production of Auntie Mame.

<i>Auntie Mame</i> covers from April and June 1958
Auntie Mame covers from April and June 1958
Promises, Promises Playbill - March 1969
Promises, Promises Playbill - March 1969

Shows began to use more individualized cover art in the late ’60s, as seen on this cover from the original 1968 production of Promises, Promises.

1973: Playbill Tries Multi-Colored Headers

A Little Night Music Playbill - Sept 1973
A Little Night Music Playbill - Sept 1973

Playbill’s first multi-colored header comes in 1973 with the magazine’s most dramatic redesign, seen here with the cover for the original production of A Little Night Music. These are the first covers featuring the Playbill header across the full width of the cover. The theatre name sits centered and beneath the Playbill logo—a format we’ve been using ever since. These are also the first covers to use the white margin on all sides. That border was in use until just a few years ago. These rainbowed covers lasted only a year, but they’re pretty distinctive!

1974-2016: The Modern Playbill Cover Debuts

Liza Playbill - Opening Night
Liza Playbill - Opening Night

A year after the “groovy” design, Playbill reverted to the logo font used before the 1973 redesign, and the solid yellow header background returned as well. The overall formatting changes from the ’73 design were retained, ultimately resulting in the first cover design to look like what most people consider the modern Playbill cover. This cover, from Liza Minnelli’s 1974 Broadway concert engagement, was one of the first to feature this design.

Over Here! Playbill - March 1974
Over Here! Playbill - March 1974

A few months after debuting this design, the Playbill font was vertically stretched to become the Playbill logo that we know today, as seen in the cover for the original production of Over Here! that opened in March 1974.

2000s: Special Editions
We’ve gotten to do some special cover designs over the years, making anniversary covers with altered Playbill logos for Wicked and Mamma Mia!.

Wicked 5th Anniversary Playbill - Oct 30, 2008
Wicked 5th Anniversary Playbill - Oct 30, 2008

2014: Playbill Celebrates LGBT Pride for the First Time
The first-ever rainbow-themed header and logo to celebrate LGBT Pride Month premiered in June 2014. The new cover design was accompanied with Pride-themed editorial content inside the magazine itself.

Pippin Playbill - June 2014
Pippin Playbill - June 2014

2015: Select Shows See a Redesign With Historical Roots
Beginning in 2015, select shows reflected another redesign with a full-bleed borderless cover, heavily inspired by the Playbill covers from the 1960s.

Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed Playbill - Opening Night

2016: The Redesign Spreads Playbill-Wide
This cover design becomes the default for all shows (with The Book of Mormon remaining a notable exception) in July 2016, which brings us to the standard Playbill cover design of today.

SpongeBob SquarePants Playbill - Opening Night
SpongeBob SquarePants Playbill - Opening Night

2017: Playbill Pride Covers Follow Suit
Playbill celebrated Pride month in 2017 with a full-bleed Pride Playbill header adapted from the original Pride header.

Hamilton Playbill - June 2016
Hamilton Playbill - June 2016

2017 & 2018: Post-Redesign Anniversaries
We’ve had a couple of special covers since the most recent re-design, for Kinky Boots’ 10th anniversary on Broadway and The Lion King’s 20th anniversary on Broadway.

2018: The New Pride Rainbow
In June 2018, Playbill premiered a new design for LGBT pride, featuring a rainbow gradient in place of the color blocks.

<i>The Boys in the Band</i> Playbill - June 2018
The Boys in the Band Playbill - June 2018

Logan Culwell-Block is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research, and curator of Playbill Vault. @loganculwell

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