Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2011 Tony Awards: Best Costume Design of a Play

Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.


1. Born Yesterday

2. La Bête

3. The Merchant of Venice

4. The Importance of Being Earnest

Missing: The Normal Heart, War Horse

How interesting that all the nominees are revivals (and not quite as interesting that they’re all period pieces) — no love for Jerusalem (Ultz’s trailer trash trappings) or War Horse (Rae Smith’s crisp uniforms and the warm-toned wear for the puppeteers). For some reason, I cannot get over (read: am obsessed with) Joe Mantello’s perfectly worn, loose-fitting grey cardigan in The Normal Heart, and wish, for that item alone, that Martin Pakledinaz had been nominated (he’s up for his seaworthy costumes for Anything Goes, however).

Out of the actual nominees, however, one design completely enraptures. In Born YesterdayCatherine Zuber (whose penchant for period costumes can also be seen in Tony-nominated work for 60s satire How to Succeed) drapes the winning Nina Arianda’s Billie in ostentatiously lush 1940s fashion. Initially flaunting herself in feathery, flowing lingerie as the flirtatious ex-chorine, Billie’s brains may be transformed by her tutor Paul Verrall through the course of the show, but it’s Zuber’s smart costumery that makes Billie’s transformation visually apparent. Maintaining a stunning elegance, Billie commands confidence with each step she takes in fire-engine-red skirt-suits and  bold empire-waist navy trousers. This is a gorgeously costumed show all-around.

Truth be told, I missed seeing La Bête, which by most accounts was worth the trip solely for super-star-of-the-moment Mark Rylance’s fabulously funny and vulgar Valere. That being said, Mark Thompson’s design (he’s also the scenic designer) that is alternately foppish and dashing in its ornate 17th century French fashion appears to be a standout as well.

Jess Goldstein’s (Next Fall, The Homecoming, Jersey Boys) period pieces for The Merchant of Venice aren’t as period as you may think, suggesting, at times, the play’s setting to be somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. The men sport smooth pinstripe suits, while the women don the more conservative, though brightly hued and lushly textured, pieces of Shakeseare’s day. Considering Mark Wendland’s period-vague skeletal set, it seems right to mix and match the contemporary with the classic.

There’s nothing wrong with Desmond Heeley’s costumes for the Wildean comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, which marks the 79-year-old designer’s eighth Broadway credit in 50 years (he’s also the set designer for the production).  A Tony Award winner for his scenic and costume designs for the original production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Heeley has a clear fondness for period pieces and this is no exception: Brian Bedford’s Lady Bracknell wears fussily ornate high collars and elaborately ruffled headdresses, and the rest of the cast is clothed in quietly unassuming, yet lovely, 19th century attire. Like the production as the whole, Heeley’s design does the job, but lacks any kind of innovation or surprise.

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This entry was posted on May 24, 2011 by in Award Predictions, Broadway, Costume Design, Theatre, Tony Awards.



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