Long live the period piece. From time travel to a revival of a beloved romantic comedy about pen pals set in Hungary to a contemporary twist on the American revolution, this year’s nominees for costume design in a musical had their work cut (and stitched) out for them as they each custom built their shows’ wardrobes.
Ann Roth tackled the roaring 1920s in “Shuffle Along” while Jeff Mahshie recreated the 1930s in “She Loves Me” starring Zachary Levi, Laura Benanti, and Jane Krakowski.
“The beginning of the period looks different from the end of the period, but it’s nuanced by the lengths of the hems or the width of the brims of the hats,” says Mahshie, who examined the work of designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Madeleine Vionnet. “You’re going from art nouveau to art deco. It’s a very specific time, post-war. It was also the invention of the bias cut.”
The first-time Tony nominee created more than 140 costumes using fabrics like crepe, chiffon, georgette, and velvet. But one particular look proved challenging — a dress Krakowski would wear while throwing her leg over her head before going into a split. The compromise was a design that the actress could snap off mid-routine.
Based on Natalie Babbitt’s children’s novel, “Tuck Everlasting” spans over 150 years from 1805 through 1960. Despite the elapses in time, the production team wanted to keep wardrobe changes to a minimum.
“You want it to be romantic and have a lovely lyrical quality, but it shouldn’t be a big pageant of costume changes,” says Gregg Barnes, who created pieces from sheer muslin, taffeta, and even refashioned old lace curtains. “You want to make sure that the clothes have a varied quality, so that they keep revealing themselves through out the night.”
The result? Barnes got crafty. He utilized a pale fabric that allowed for light projection. He also created pieces that could be added on top of previous looks. Among the two-time Tony award winner’s favorite creations: “We have a set of dresses that are hand-painted. It must have taken hundreds of hours.”
“Hamilton” had its own challenges. Based on founding father Alexander Hamilton’s life story, but told in a contemporary way incorporating hip-hop and a cast of ethnically diverse actors, the show toyed with a more modern aesthetic in its earliest iterations. Eventually, the team decided to stay true to the American Revolutionary period — despite its restrictive clothing.
“We built them to look as true to period as possible and then we made adjustments so that the performers can do what they need to do in them,” says costume designer Paul Tazewell. “Everything was made to order — even down to the boots. We needed for the dancers to relate to their clothing in the same way that they relate to sneakers and jeans.”
The six-time Tony nominee created more 120 costumes including wool melton uniforms with stretch riding breeches for the men and fully boned corseted silk taffeta looks with elasticized panels for the women. Because Tazewell had previously collaborated with “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on “In the Heights” in 2008, the two “already had a familiarity and comfort in place.”
Still, Miranda felt strongly about one thing — the color of his clothing.
“Hamilton needed to be in green — the color of money,” Tazewell says, adding that he created a neutral cream and taupe world so that “the addition of a coat or a cape would mean more visually.”