Highlighting Iconic Set Designers from Broadway Past

Table of Contents Boris AronsonJohn Lee BeattyBen EdwardsHeidi EttingerSanto LoquastoJo MielzinerOliver SmithRobin WagnerTony WaltonPerry Watkins

Ever wonder who designs Broadway sets? Scenic design, or set design, is one of the most important elements of any show as a key to transporting an audience to the world of the play or musical. Scenic designers are responsible for creating that magic, from sketching out the concept to supervising its construction. While the worlds of television and film have many famous prop designers, on Broadway, that responsibility often falls to the team behind the scenic design.

Want to learn more about Broadway set design? Who are some of Broadway’s best set designers? Which scenic designers have won the most Tony Awards? Read more about some of the greatest behind the scenes employees of Broadway and study up on ten famous set designers from Broadway history.

Boris Aronson

Born in present-day Ukraine, Aronson began his life in theatre designing sets and costumes for Yiddish theatres in the Lower East Side. He made his Broadway debut with 1932’s Walk a Little Faster, and went on to design over 80 other Broadway productions for shows such as Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Love Life, South Pacific, Follies and Company. He was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards and won six. Aronson was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1979- a year before his death.

John Lee Beatty

Beatty’s work on the Broadway stage officially began with 1976’s Knock Knock and continues through next season with Plaza Suite. Between the two, he has worked on over 115 Broadway shows, has been nominated for fifteen Tony Awards, and has won two (for Talley’s Folly and The Nance). He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2003.

Scene from Plaza Suite. Designed by Beatty in 2020.

Ben Edwards

Edwards made his Broadway debut as a scenic designer with 1938’s Coriolanus and went on to work on over 80 Broadway plays, including many works by Shakespeare, Euripides, O’Neill, and Shaw. He earned fourteen Tony nominations throughout his career and took home a special award for Lifetime Achievement before his death in 1999.

Heidi Ettinger

Ettinger holds the distinction of being the first woman to win a Tony Award for set design, which she earned for her work on Big River in 1985. She has designed twelve Broadway shows, earning another Tony in 1991 for The Secret Garden, and three other nominations.

Santo Loquasto

Loquasto’s career as a scenic designer began with 1972’s Sticks and Bones and continues through next season with the revival of The Music Man. While his work has been celebrated on both stage and screen, his Broadway credits include 73 shows, with four Tony Awards to his name (three for costume design) and a total of 23 nominations. In 2004, Loquasto was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

Highlighting Iconic Set Designers from Broadway Past
Scene from Carousel. Designed by Loquasto in 2018.

Jo Mielziner

Considered one of the greatest designers of the Golden Age, Mielziner worked on over 200 Broadway shows throughout the course of his career, including the original productions of Carousel, South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, The King and I, A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Gypsy, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. He won seven Tony Awards and earned twelve nominations.

Oliver Smith

Smith’s prolific career on Broadway began with 1942’s Rosalinda. In addition to working extensively with the American Ballet Theatre, he designed 138 Broadway shows, including On the Town, Brigadoon, Carousel, My Fair Lady, Camelot, Hello, Dolly, The Sound of Music, and many more. Throughout his career, he was nominated for 25 Tony Awards and won 10- more than any other scenic designer in Broadway history. Smith was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1981.

Robin Wagner

A Native of San Francisco, Wager’s Broadway career as a designer began as an assistant to Ben Edwards and Oliver Smith, which led to his first solo project- The Condemned of Altoona in 1966. He designed over 150 other Broadway shows, including the original productions of Hair, Promises, Promises, Jesus Christ Superstar, Angels in America, Dreamgirls, Mack & Mabel, The Producers, and The Boy From Oz. For his work, he has won three Tony Awards and earned an additional seven nominations. In 2001, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

Highlighting Iconic Set Designers from Broadway Past
Scene from Leap of Faith. Designed by Wagner in 2010.

Tony Walton

With extensive work on both stage and screen on both sides of the pond, Walton made his Broadway debut designing 1961’s There Once Was a Russian. Since then, he has designed costumes and sets for over 50 Broadway shows, earning three Tony Awards (and sixteen nominations) for his work on Pippin, House of Blue Leaves, and Guys and Dolls.

Perry Watkins

Watkins goes down in history as the first African American scenic designer in Broadway history. His Broadway debut was with One Act Plays of the Sea in 1937. He went on to design sixteen other Broadway shows before his death in 1974.

Did we miss one of your favorites? Tell us which set designer or scenic design from Broadway past you love most.

Want to learn more about some of Broadway’s more recent designs? Read all about them with Broadway By Design. Who are some of Broadway’s greatest set designers that are always in the news? Find out by keeping up with the latest in BroadwayWorld’s newsroom.