May 27, 2017

Tony Talk Episode9: The Design Categories

Just like everyone else involved in putting on a show, costume and set designers see their main job as telling a story. But that job--and winning a Tony for it--is harder than it looks.

Designs usually have to replicate the time period in which the play or musical is set or at least the director's vision of that. And the best designs illustrate not only the changes in the characters' outer lives but in their inner lives as well.

At the same time, designers need to make sure that their stars look and feel good in their costumes. And they need to find a way to distinguish the supporting players and members of the ensemble too. 

Sets can be naturalistic or expressionistic but either way they have to create the framework and establish the tone for the way in which the story will be told.

Meanwhile, a production hoping to win a Tony has to offer costumes and sets that deliver the wow-factor that people expect when they pay top dollar to see a Broadway show.

When it comes to winning a Tony, the award often goes to the shows that dress actresses in sumptuous gowns or that have spectacular sets. That tends to favor musicals. So the Tony administrators have tried to level the playing field by separating the design categories into those for plays and musicals.

But even when it's just plays competing against one another, costume dramas like Wolf Hall, the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2015 adaptation of Hilary Mantel's novel about intrigues in the court of Henry VIII, usually have had an edge.

Although not always. Last year, Eclipsed, the drama about a group of rags-clad women held as sex slaves during Liberia's civil wars beat out a couple of much fancier-dressed shows.

The competitors this year come primarily from the big shows and some of them like Santo Loquasto, nominated for both costumes and sets for Hello, Dolly!, and Catherine Zuber, up for dressing Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole as cosmetics divas in War Paint, have won multiple times in the past. 

But one nominee Jane Greenwood, who had to devise outfits that would look good on both Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon who are alternating roles in The Little Foxes, has been nominated 20 times without ever taking home the prize.

In this week's episode, my pals Chris Caggiano, Patrick Pacheco, Bill Tynan and I talk about the design categories that can make the difference between winning and losing in the office Tony pool. Click the orange button below to hear what we have to say or check out all the Tony Talk podcasts on SoundCloud by clicking here 

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