Design and make a musical from your favourite story

Produced as part of Re:Imagining Musicals

Have you ever seen a musical and wondered how a story is transformed into a magical theatre performance? Re-think your favourite story for the stage: design costumes, find props and create your own set.

The story

Left to right: Poster advertising Peter Pan the musical, unknown designer, England. Museum no. S.471-1995. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Poster advertising Matilda at the Hackney Empire, by Quentin Blake, 1990, England. Museum no. S.2643-1994 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

First, let's think about the story.

The Wizard of Oz is a story about a girl called Dorothy whose house is blown away in a tornado. She ends up in the magical Land of Oz with her dog Toto and meets all kinds of characters along the way, including good and bad witches.

The musical Wicked was inspired by the story of the The Wizard of Oz, but rather than telling Dorothy's story, it tells the story of the witches. Another musical, The Wiz, re-tells the story of Dorothy's adventures, with African American characters, music and culture.

Left to right: Poster for The Wizard of Oz, unknown designer, 1992, England. Museum no.S.3305-1994. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Poster for Wicked – The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, designed by Dewynters PLC, 2011, England. Museum no. S.505-2016. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Poster for The Wiz, designed by The Drawing Room, 1984, England. Museum no.S.2894-1994. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Could you tell your story from a different point of view or introduce unexpected characters?

What if Peter Pan could no longer fly?

What if Cinderella stayed at the ball after midnight?

Write an alternative version of your favourite story. Think about the characters in the story and what they would say.

Costume design

Costumes, make-up and props transform actors into the characters that we see on the stage. Costume designers plan costumes by drawing their ideas.

By looking at the drawing for the costume of Elphaba, the witch in Wicked, alongside the costume itself, you can see how the designer Susan Hilferty's idea has been transformed into reality.

Left to right: Signed facsimile of the costume design for Elphaba in Wicked, designed by Susan Hilferty, 2003, US. Museum no. S.550-2016. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Costume worn by Kerry Ellis as Elphaba in Wicked, designed by Susan Hilferty and Eric Winterling, 2006, US. Museum no. S.502:1 to 3-2016. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Who are the characters in your story?

Draw some costume designs for your characters. Think about how you can use clothes and make-up to help tell the audience about the character.

Props

Props are objects that are used to help tell stories. They can be part of the stage set or can belong to the characters, such as Willy Wonka's cane, Mary Poppins' umbrella or Peter Pan's sword.

Left to right: Cane used by Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Marcus Hall Props, 2013, England. Museum no. S.522-2019. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Stage property of Mary Poppins’ umbrella, designed by Bob Crowey. Museum no. S.878-2019. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Stage property of Peter Pan’s sword, designed by Wilhelm, about 1906, Scotland. Museum no. S.97F-1978. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Find objects from around your home that you could use as props for your characters. Hats, shoes, umbrellas or The Mad Hatter's teapot!

Puppets

You could use an animal puppet instead of an actor. There are lots of different types of puppets: hand puppets, rod puppets (on sticks), sock puppets, shadow puppets and string puppets, called marionettes.

Left to right: Glove puppet, about 1970, unknown maker. Museum no. S.465-2001. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Lascaux tiger shadow puppet, by Christopher Leith and Richard Gill for Polka Theatre, 1979, England. Museum no. S. 1029-2011. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Puppet, by Walt Disney Productions, 1960, China. Museum no. MISC.302-1984. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This life-size horse, Joey, is also a puppet. It was made for a play called War Horse and is moved by people working underneath and alongside it, using the Japanese Bunraku 'exposed' style of puppetry. The puppeteers are visible to the audience, but Joey is the focus of attention.

Joey puppet from War Horse, by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company, 2009. England. Museum no. S.3831:1 to 8-2013. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Plan your music

A musical wouldn't be a musical without music! Some songs are written especially for musicals, while some musicals use existing music. Some songs in musicals are so popular that they become big hits and sell lots of records. Think about the type of song you imagine your characters singing.

You could make your own noise and rhythms for your production. Read our 'Let’s make some noise' blog post for ideas.

Left to right: Album cover artwork from Annie, designed by CMS Records Art Department (illustration by Harold Gray), 1977. Archive no. BMT/2/1/79. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Album cover artwork from The Wiz, designed by Milton Glaser, 1975. Archive no. BMT/2/1/3133. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Create your own set

Where a musical is set can tell us lots about the story and its characters, so how the stage looks and the set design are very important.

What would the set of your musical look like? Would you have it in a fantastical land or a simple setting like a kitchen or a street?

Transform your bedroom into a stage – and lights, curtain, action!

Mother Goose, set design, by Charles Reading,1954, England. Museum no. S.34:1 to 7-2015. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Need more inspiration? Visit Re: Imagining Musicals to explore how some of the best-loved musicals have been adapted, revived, and retold.

Background image: Poster advertising 'Matilda' at the Hackney Empire, designed by Quentin Blake, 1990, England. Museum no. S.2643-1994. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London