Broadway’s "Beetlejuice" pays homage to the quirky mind of Tim Burton. But, the real mind behind the visual design of the stage adaptation is the Tony-nominated David Korins.
Inside his West 30th Street studio, the designer who’s worked on "Dear Evan Hansen," "Bandstand" and "Hamilton" (to name a few), brought to life a version of Burton’s wild tale that could create movie-sized magic on a stage.
"Oh, of course, yeah," Korins says when asked if he was a fan of Burton ahead of his "Beetlejuice" gig. "I totally respect his body of work. What he’s done is incredible."
We went inside Korins’ creative studio to see his "Beetlejuice" stage model, sketches and more ahead of the Tony Awards. He’s nominated for best scenic design of a musical.
How much time do you spend in your studio?
Well, it fluctuates every day. When I am not on a job site and not traveling, I try to be here from about 9 a.m. to 6. It’s basically the whole top floor of a building, with an open floor plan and lots of windows on all four sides. It has a private office for me, and it’s quite lovely. We have kind of like a maker’s mentality. We have workspaces made out of recycled bowling alleys. It’s a fun place.
Sounds it. How much time did you spend here working on "Beetlejuice" specifically?
I’ve been working on that show for over six years. I was actually brought on before there was a script, so it’s been a long time. I work with a team of about 24 people, full time. So, between sketching, illustrating models, making renderings and rafting, I’d say we cumulatively worked well over 10,000 hours.
That seems like an unusual circumstance, for the set designer to be on board before the script.
Yes. I’ve never heard of it before. We went through a couple of different writing teams. I think when the director heard he was going to do it, he wanted to engage my service. You could imagine Tim Burton and Alex Timbers combining is a huge honor and also terrifying. So, it takes a lot of work.
Given that you had a film and the mind of Tim Burton to work off of here, how much did you lean on that versus create your own vision for the set?
I mean, we’re not doing "Beetlejuice" the movie, as you know. We’re doing the Broadway show. Tim Burton is a master of his craft. He has the ability to cut away, cross fade , jump cut, we have to make something that works eight times a week. Our story departs a lot from the source material, so we had to take that into consideration.
Listen, I went back to the real source, which is Tim Burton’s sketch pad. I looked at his entire oeuvre of all of his visual designs. We wanted to honor not just Beetlejuice the movie but his whole body of work. We are quoting and citing things from "Nightmare Before Christmas," "Coraline," Edward Scissorhands" and many more of his projects. It was a huge puzzle.
It screams Tim Burton. What about the set are you most proud to see come to life?
You never get a chance to see a set completely transform four different times. All the walls. All the windows, doors, fireplaces, furniture, all that stuff. And then there are other seeds. The attic, the father’s bedroom, the yoga room. Our lighting designer who worked on "Wicked" told me this was by far the biggest show he’s ever done, and he’s been working for 30 years in the industry.
How did you work to create a story evolution through the different rooms we see here?
We’re doing a house that completely changes and gets owned by different people. We start with the Mainlands, they are country chic, so we start with green color palettes. It brings life to the homey atmosphere. Then the house gets bought, we bleach it in color and go gray on black and gold to give it a city slicker . . . effect. We bleed it of a lot of the old wooden Victorian details. Then, when Beetlejuice haunts the house, we go to the classic dead, undead, black and white colors. When Beetlejuice decides he’s going to kill everyone in the house and make a game show out of it, we infuse it with red, a sort of carnival atmosphere.
After all this, how are you feeling right now heading into the Tony Awards?
I’ve been lucky enough to be nominated before, but it never, ever gets old. It’s a wonderful celebration of this theater community. It is not lost on me, a guy from a small town in Massachusets. As someone who grew up watching Tim Burton movies who is now working at the kind of highest level of the Broadway theater scene, bringing to life one of these iconic stories, I feel humbled, honored and a huge sense of responsibility. It’s wonderful to be recognized.