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Nation Building with HAMILTON's David Korins

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Courtesy of David Korins Design

When restaging a hit Broadway show in Chicago, Tony-nominated set designer David Korins says it literally is best not to reinvent the wheel. Well, the turntable, anyway.

"Though the stage is six-feet narrower at the PrivateBank Theatre, we knew going in that the turntable had to be there," he says.

A few nips and tucks here and there and Korins says the set for the Chicago production is virtually indistinguishable from its Broadway counterpart. If anything, it might even be a bit better.

"The set at the Richard Rogers Theatre in New York is really a Frankenstein creation that stitches together the set from our pre-Broadway run at The Public Theater along with changes we wanted to make for the Broadway run," he explains. "Chicago is the most pure set in terms of my designs, because it was created from scratch."

Korins is currently in town to ensure the set is functioning the way it should (the show began previews on Sept. 27 and officially opens Oct. 19).

"Chicago getting the best possible version of the show," Korins says. "You don't get a second chance at something like this and the entire production team felt really responsible for creating something special with this production."

Korins says he first became interested in working on the project when the show's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail were still developing the structure of the first act.

"I told Tommy when it comes time to finding a designer to make sure to throw my hat in the ring," he recalls.

And though Korins had previously worked with them both (MAGIC BIRD and LOMBARDI with Kail and BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL with Miranda), he said there were no certainties he'd actually be tapped to visually adapt the epic and historic new musical.

"When they were mounting the show at The Public Theater, I still had to come in with a pitch," he says.

To prepare for the meeting, he read Ron Chernow's biography Alexander Hamilton that was the basis of the show and took a walk around New York.

"A lot of what takes place in the show takes place in New York. These are places you can go and see," he says. "I immediately knew that were wasn't going to be a way to render it realistically. I had to take a more stylized approach."

And thus we have a stage filled with scaffolding, wood and ropes.

Courtesy of David Korins Design

"The show doesn't focus on who built the country. It focuses on the people who laid the country's foundation," Korins explains. "We wanted to suggest the rich tapestry of American colonial architecture in a way that felt aspirational. The set is our way of showing the country in the middle of being built. The audience is watching the scaffolding of the country being built before their eyes."

Korins literally left no brick unturned in his attempt to get his design right.

"We went through something like 33 versions of brick before we found the perfect tone that made the costumes pop and didn't washout the cast's complexions," he says.

Korins wouldn't settle for anything less than perfect.

"Nothing is watered down," he adds. " This is Hamilton version 1.0. It just happens to not be in New York."

Korins, who also designed the set for the Goodman's production of WAR PAINT in the summer, says he's enjoyed getting to book-end his summer in the Windy City.

"I appreciate a city that appreciates architecture," he says. "The entire Hamilton team is hoping to book an architecture tour next week. Chicago really is beautiful."

HAMILTON: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL is currently in an open run at the PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe. A new block of tickets for performances through Sept. 17, 2017 are now on sale. 800.775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com.

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