“There is no greater compliment, as a designer, than when an actor puts on a costume and conveys that they have become their character,” says Broadway veteran Catherine Zuber, who has created ensembles for more than 50 shows and picked up her sixth and most recent Tony Award in 2015 for The King and I.
In advance of the 2017 Tony Awards nominations on Tuesday, she, along with costume designers from the most visually stunning of this past season’s Broadway musicals, dished on the wool-, silk charmeuse- and tweed-embellished silhouettes they tirelessly toiled over to help make each of their shows truly sing.
Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber
The business rivalry between cosmetic industry trailblazers Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden is at the center of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie’s new musical, starring Broadway royalty Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole in the respective lead roles. But in the process of shattering the glass ceiling for working women in the 1930’s, the duo also set a new bar for chic, as Zuber’s 32 different costumes for the Michael Greif-directed show elegantly demonstrate. “It was a strategic challenge to honor their individual, personal style while balancing their similarities and differences,” says Zuber. Rubinstein, a Polish-American Balenciaga and Schiaparelli devotee, is the more flamboyant of the two, Zuber notes: “Helena’s style was gloriously unique and original. She was friends with brilliant artists and designers and her personal style reflected a cultured, international aesthetic.” Arden, on the other hand, who adored the color pink (she gets an entire number about it in the show) and donned Chanel-inspired suits, “gravitated toward a gentrified image of Park Avenue aristocracy.”
Costume and Set Design: Mark Thompson
A historical moment often gives costume designers a clear, immediate sense of aesthetic direction, but what happens when you’re operating in a fantasy world — specifically, the sinister realm of Roald Dahl? “Everything is turned inside out and upside down and on its head,” says costume and set designer Mark Thompson. For the Broadway adaptation of Dahl’s 1964 Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, which tells the classic story of a sweet, impoverished boy who wins a ticket to the titular world of the eccentric Willy Wonka, Thompson sought to create costumes that had “a slightly childlike illustration feeling about them” with a heavy focus on proportion. The children’s wardrobe, with its saturated jewel tones and street-edge, was easiest to create (“Charlie was the first drawing I did — I knew exactly what he would be”), while the adults proved more challenging. In the four years since the musical premiered on London’s West End, Thompson made some adjustments to the set and character designs, noting that the grandparents are “much more cheerful and eccentric and chirpy.” None of his references, however, have anything to do with the 1971 or 2005 film versions starring Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp, respectively. “I actually haven’t seen them!” Thompson says with a laugh. “I guess that’s something I’ve still got to do!”
Costume design: Linda Cho
For Linda Cho, one of the great joys of costume design lies in the process of amassing a library of research before the first yard of fabric is even stitched. And while Anastasia— the epic story of an amnesiac Russian orphan named Anya who may be the long lost, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II —began as an animated 1997 20th Century Fox film, Cho brought fine art and history into every aspect of the musical adaptation’s wardrobe. “The plot covers a wide range of history that spans different countries—from Russia in 1907, the revolution, to Paris in the 1920’s, and I delved into all of that,” says Cho. Every scene, she says, was assigned a unique color palette. The Russian revolution, for example, uses browns reminiscent of those in a Cubist painting, while a scene at the ballet takes inspiration from the golden and bronze metallic hues of Gustav Klimt’s work. But the standout blue gown that Christy Altomare’s Anya wears when meeting her grandmother in Paris owes its color to fans of the film. “When we first did the show in Hartford [in 2016], Anya was wearing a pink and white dress, but the fans — who we call ‘Fanastasias’ — expressed sadness that we didn’t follow the movie,” says Cho. “So we listened.”
Costume and set design: David Zinn
Audiences went bonkers for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s French romantic comedy Amelie when it premiered in 2001: the story of a young Parisian waitress intent on orchestrating the happiness of others was as wonderfully whimsical as it was visually masterful. So how to translate the evocative world of the film to the stage? “We took the path of heightening the colors on stage as a way of seeing the story through a more imaginative lens,” costume and set designer David Zinn explains. He also put the 13-member cast in darker hues (think: deep teals, rich merlots and hunter greens) while keeping the titular character (played by original Hamilton cast member Phillipa Soo) in a bright red cardigan, red floral blouse and red buffalo-print skirt. “Against the Tiffany-blue color of the set, she always stands out.”
Costume design: Paloma Young
Set immediately following World War II, the swing-era musical Bandstand follows a band of Cleveland-based military veterans led by Donny Novitski (Corey Cott) who come together to compete in a national radio contest in New York City with the hopes of achieving stardom. For Tony-winning costume designer Paloma Young, the wardrobe had to achieve three main objectives: “It had to look individual, remain true to the period without looking costume-y, and it had to be danceable.” But as Young points out, the costumes also bore a larger responsibility: indicating shifts in scenery when the show’s backdrop didn’t change. For the nearly eight-minute long opening number, “Just Like It Was Before,” uniformed soldiers in trenches change costumes as they enter multiple nightclubs post-war. “Some of the guys at the top of the show are wearing three pairs of wool pants, and as the number goes on, they keep shedding them,” says Young. “I almost could not count the number of blazers, vests, and overcoats that get danced onto another character—it’s all been worked into [Andy Blankenbuehler’s] choreography.” Instead of covering her design studio with photos, Young says giant charts took up most of her wall space. “We had to literally map out every person in every scene, and what we were hiding under their costumes” with what can only be described as military precision.