You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Hamilton’ Director and Set Designer on Musical’s Origins, Adapting for L.A., Initial Ideas That Were Tossed Out

Pegged as a conversation about the scenery behind hit musical “Hamilton,” talk really turned to the show’s birth Wednesday at NeueHouse in Hollywood.

Opening night is Aug. 16 at the Pantages in Los Angeles, where it runs till Dec. 30. For those watching the show in L.A., director Thomas Kail said he wanted them to experience the “Hamilton” they are expecting from the Broadway run. In an interview before the public conversation, Kail and set designer David Korins talked to Variety about the touring production’s sets, which are being moved in five vans.

The set was reverse engineered so that it could be taken down and set up quickly. While the L.A. stint covers nearly four months, in other cities the run is much shorter. “The whole set is conceived to feel big and strong and permanent,” Korins said. “So it’s kind of an interesting trick to make something that has to move so quickly and so nimbly look permanent and solid.”

Kail said: “That’s actually what I love about taking a show down on the road. You get to do something, which is, I think really important — you bring the show to the people.”

Kail explained the show’s origins, including his collaboration with creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. “After 2 1/2 years there were two songs. Two songs does not make a musical, but it’s the Rosetta Stone.” He then told Miranda, “Let’s step this up, we’ll be as old as dirt by the time this is done.”

They read Ron Chernow’s book on Alexander Hamilton that inspired the tuner and marked everything that seemed to make a scene or a song and made a “Venn diagram” of what they both liked. “We were building this brick by brick. There was no road map,” Kail said.

Kail had worked with Miranda and the rest of the creative team: musical director Alex Lacamoire (who was in the audience), choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and lighting designer Howell Binkley, among others in Miranda’s previous show “In the Heights.” Korins was working on set designing “Passing Strange” at the time, and said he felt a twinge of regret he wasn’t part of the team.

“I was not jealous of the show, but jealous of the collaboration,” Korins said. So when he heard about “Hamilton” he wanted to be part of it.

“David’s work is the secret ingredient of the show,” Kail said. “When we work with people at the top of their form it seems it fell into place, but it took him 20 minutes to come up with the idea.”

Miranda, he added, doesn’t write stage directions, but gives them leeway to work it out for themselves.

Many of Korins’ initial designs were set aside, including the twin turntables that are the highlight of the show. “Double turntables are difficult to pull off,” Kail said explaining why it was originally set aside. “We want to make sure whatever we do aids and enhances the show.”

Some they returned to, while others are just hinted at now. Among ideas that were considered and tossed aside were a giant parchment and quill, a gilded picture frame, a ginormous column and scaffolding, to show they were building the country.

“Our story is not about the people who built our country, but the people who built the scaffolding for the people that built the country,” the director said.

“We knew them as old, crusty white guys, but in the show they weren’t going to be old, crusty white guys,” Korins said.

“The show doesn’t feel contemporary because there’s an iPod, it’s contemporary because of its integrity,” Kail said. “Nothing is more powerful and economical than your imagination.”

(Pictured: David Korins and Thomas Kail at Behind the Scenery of “Hamilton: An American Musical”)

More Artisans

  • Smithsonian Handmaids Tale Costume

    Why the Smithsonian Chose to Enshrine 'Handmaid's Tale' Servant Costume

    The iconic red-caped, white-bonneted outfits worn by Elisabeth Moss and the other childbearing servants in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” created by costume designer Ane Crabtree, have become that show’s signature visual.  Hulu immediately knew it had a good thing, hiring groups of women around the country to parade in the garments to promote the show. [...]

  • Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by

    Why 'Missing Link's' Title Character Was One of Laika's Biggest Challenges

    Stop-motion studio Laika pushes design boundaries in every film it makes, and the lead character in “Missing Link” is no exception. “It became pretty apparent that [the character] Link was going to be the cornerstone,” says director and writer Chris Butler. “I did this rough drawing many years ago, and it was basically like a [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    New 3D-Printing Technology Was 'Missing Link' for Laika's Latest Stop-Motion Project

    For the upcoming animated comedy adventure “Missing Link,” stop-motion studio Laika set the bar very high. To execute the designs created by director and writer Chris Butler, artists would have to speed up their 3D printing of character faces — and those faces would have to be the most complex they’d ever created. “Missing Link” [...]

  • The Old Man and the Gun

    Ohio’s Midwest Locations and Flexible Tax Credit Lure Producers

    With its small towns, rolling farmlands and industrial cities, Ohio embodies the American Midwest. Other location lures for filmmakers include the shore along Lake Erie, the campus of Ohio State University, the striking skyline of Cincinnati and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The Buckeye State also provides producers with a 30% [...]

  • Nancy Schreiber Mapplethorpe Cinematographer

    DP Nancy Schreiber Captures Life of Artist Robert Mapplethorpe in Grimy Gotham

    Don’t tell cinematographer Nancy Schreiber that she’s having a renaissance. That would imply there’ve been slumps in her long career, and she won’t have any of that, even if for a time she was taking smaller jobs as the gaps widened between larger gigs. “It’s never been about the money, for me,” says Schreiber over [...]

  • What Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga Share:

    LeRoy Bennett Keeps Top Acts Like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande in the Spotlight

    You might say that LeRoy Bennett is a shining light among lighting and production designers for pop music. Doing double duty creating both touring sets and their illumination, he started out with a 14-year run as Prince’s collaborator, went on to work with Nine Inch Nails and Madonna and has counted Beyoncé’s and Bruno Mars’ [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content