David Gallo: Sensationally Setting the Scene

A sensational convergence of fantasy and artistry on the big stage makes this visual storyteller one of the best in the business.

Let the Show Begin

Spectators take to their seats. Whispers slowly cease as the curtain rises and the house lights fade. Lights up, the reveal! Instantly, the art of David Gallo overcomes you and you are swept into another realm. He has set the stage in both mood and expectation at the start of your theatrical journey. His set design provides a canvas, of sorts, for actors and directors to make a story come to life, but the set is a piece of magnificence all on its own.

As a scenic designer, Gallo is responsible for the visual appearance and function of the scenic elements used in a production. But he is more inclined to far exceed usual conventions, and instead, creates awe-inspiring works of art and experiential productions.

Gallo is one of the most preeminent creators of theatrical environments in the industry. In the quarter century that is his career, his imaginings have breathed life into many successful projects. Among them, the Tony Award-winning Broadway productions The Drowsy Chaperone, Memphis, and Thoroughly Modern Millie, to name a few.  In fact, Gallo’s set design was nominated for four Tony awards for Gem of the Ocean, Radio Golf,and Jitney; and he won best scenic design of a musical for The Drowsy Chaperone.

The playwright August Wilson’s later works such as King Hedley II, Gem of the Ocean, Radio Golf, Jitney, and the revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom had premieres designed by Gallo. Theirs was a long-running and successful collaboration.

Theater play Jitney.

Magical Experiences

“I tend to do things large,” reports Gallo to The New York Times.

It doesn’t stop at the theater either. Concerts, television, film, and spectacular productions have also been touched by his expertise. He designed the first of its kind at sea immersive entertainment experience for Norwegian Cruise Line. Called the Illusionarium, guests are treated to a dinner show and are surrounded with magical illusions by top magicians.


For a taste of Gallo’s immersive talent, watch this incredible Peter Pan experience…

Gallo has also been the creative director of the rock band Phish’s legendary New Year’s Eve extravaganzas. Their concerts were given the Gallo Midas touch creating visually spectacular performances such as their New Year’s Eve celebration in Miami and at Madison Square Garden, where the global version of Meatstick was born. Translating each set design from concept to choreography to execution brought to life his creative mastery.

Phish New Year’s concert 2010.

Blue Man Group also tapped Gallo’s design wizardry and it is no less epic. Fans all over the country have been blown away by his extravagant artistry, turning Blue Man Group performances into surreal experiences and feasts for the senses.

Blue Man Group concert

Some of the world’s most preeminent studios requested Gallo make their animated children’s hits into true-life masterpieces. These include Super WHY! Live, Madagascar LiveYo Gabba Gabba LiveDora the ExplorerBlues Clues LiveClifford the Big Red Dog, and SpongeBob SquarePants.

Children’s live entertainment Blues Clues Live.

Behind the Scenes

Gallo’s “whimsical” vision developed from a desire to create parallel and alternative universes. This vision, along with being accustomed to moving from one location to another after spending his childhood living on military bases, made him particularly suited for the industry.

Even today, he considers his family to be modern-mobile, relocating as needed for short or extended periods. Gallo has two daughters – August (named after Wilson) and Citizen (named for a character in Gem of the Ocean). He says they’re his toughest audience as well as his greatest inspiration when designing for children. In fact, he frequently brings their drawings to design meetings to show a kid’s eye view of the world. And, by the way, Gallo has won two Emmy awards for his work on Sesame Street!

Gallo’s vision transcends language and goes beyond words. “For many years, I have been designing shows in languages I do not speak,” he says. His design creations have graced venues not only in the U.S. but across the globe including Europe and Asia.

Sure, he has the talent, but this is no easy task. Early mornings and hours of travel are just a few of the sacrifices needed to create these marvelous sets for audiences. Gallo provided the first new set in over four decades for Sesame Street, finally giving greater depth to the characters’ home. So much so, that he was awarded a daytime Emmy.

Set for Sesame Street

And That’s Not the Only Award…

His talents have been honored by a myriad of recognitions and awards such as The Tony Award for Best Scenic Design (for The Drowsy Chaperone), the Obie for Sustained Excellence in Set Design, multiple NAACP, Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel, American Theater Wing, Hewes Design, Ovation, and LA Critics Circle awards.

The musical The Drowsy Chaperone

Gallo was celebrated in 2000, when his body of work was selected to represent innovative contemporary American set design in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum inaugural National Design Triennial. He has work (paintings) in the Smithsonian Institution archives. On display in the August Wilson section of the National Museum of African American History & Culture you can find the payphone he designed and painted for Jitney. And these are just a few of many recognitions.

But after everything is said and done, it is humbling to know that above all, Gallo treasures his family. He is a proud father, a talented creative visionary, and a true icon of his industry. You can learn more about Gallo and his incredible work at davidgallo.com.

The musical Beauty and the Beast